Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Plight of migrants in Andaman Sea continues. As many as three thousand refugees, mostly Rohingya minority Muslims fleeing state-sanctioned persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants, remain stranded in the waters in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand. An estimated seven thousand refugees were abandoned by human traffickers during the past week without food or water in overcrowded boats; as many as fifty thousand attempt the trip each year. A Thai crackdown on smuggling routes led to the disruption. Southeast Asian countries have been hesitant to offer refuge to the “boat people,” but international pressure has forced several countries to accept migrants at least on a temporary basis. Indonesia, Malaysia, Gambia, and the Philippines have stepped forward, and the U.S. State Department has said the United States is willing to lead a multinational effort to rescue stranded refugees.
2. The United States charges six Chinese citizens for theft of trade secrets; one arrested. Six Chinese citizens were indicted for economic espionage after U.S. authorities claimed that the group infiltrated U.S. universities and tech firms with the intent to deliver trade secrets to the Chinese government and Tianjin University. One man was arrested upon arriving in Los Angeles to speak at a conference. The ordeal underscores growing concerns in the United States over espionage threats from embedded insiders with access to confidential information, as well as the ongoing conflict between the United States and China over innovation and intellectual property rights. In China, the indictments are considered evidence of “Washington’s growing paranoia,” and Tianjin University officials denied the charges.
3. Japan takes South Korea to the World Trade Organization. Japan brought a complaint against South Korea to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Fukushima-related food import restrictions. The trade complaint challenges Seoul’s import bans and additional testing requirements for Japanese food after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Japan says existing measures violate the WTO’s sanitary foods agreement, and that South Korea has failed to justify its trade restrictions. Under WTO rules, South Korea has sixty days to deal with Japan’s concerns before the WTO adjudicates the matter. The trade dispute is the latest source of tension in the already fraught relationship between the two countries.
4. Former Thai prime minister declares her innocence; current military-led government delays democratic elections. Yingluck Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, declared her innocence as her trial began on Tuesday that could result in a ten-year prison sentence. Yingluck is accused of negligence for her role in a multibillion dollar rice subsidy that authorities allege was plagued with corruption. The court agreed to grant her bail on the condition that she remain in the country. On the same day that Yingluck’s trial began, the Thai cabinet agreed that a referendum should be held on a new constitution—a move seen by many as a mechanism to delay the return to democracy from the current military junta that overthrew Yingluck’s government nearly a year ago. Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha remarked that if such a referendum is held, it would inevitably push back elections until next calendar year.
5. North Korea claims it has technology to miniaturize nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, the North Korean military announced it has developed the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons, reports DPRK state media. This would be the first step needed to demonstrate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is a credible threat; also necessary are long-range missiles capable of delivering a payload to enemy targets. North Korea claims it has long-range missile technology, but has yet to demonstrate its viability via tests. (North Korea has tested mid-range missiles capable of hitting Japan.) While acknowledging the DPRK has advanced its nuclear technology and the likelihood that Pyongyang possesses up to twenty nuclear weapons, U.S. officials remain skeptical of Pyongyang’s claim. National Security Council Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said the Obama administration emphasizes the need to return to Six-Party Talks for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Chief nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea, and Japan are set to meet next week in Seoul to discuss these and other concerns related to North Korea’s growing nuclear capability.
Bonus: Raining spiders in Australia. Arachnophobes, beware. Millions of tiny spiders fell from the sky in the Southern Tablelands region of Australia this week, a phenomenon known as “spider rain” or “angel hair.” The small town of Goulburn was shrouded in silken webs as the spiders used their webs as parachutes to move in large colonies through the sky, covering both buildings and people.