from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 29, 2015

May 29, 2015

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Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Death toll in India’s heat wave nears two thousand. Hospitals across India are struggling to meet the needs of victims of the most severe heatwave the country has seen in twenty years. With temperatures hovering above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for over a week, Indian citizens are anxiously waiting for monsoon rains to cool the smoldering air. Pictures of melting roads with swirled and distorted road markings illustrate the shocking intensity of the heat. Day workers, the homeless, and elderly people face severe danger, unable to take a day off from work or to find adequate shelter. Although heatwaves are not uncommon in India, climate change has led to more frequent and intense heatwaves in recent years. India’s Meteorological Department recorded temperatures just five degrees short of the nation’s record.

2. China confirms its first MERS case. On Friday, health authorities in Guangdong province announced first confirmed case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in a forty-four-year-old South Korean man who entered China by way of Hong Kong. MERS is similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread throughout Asia in 2003; it is considered deadlier but less infectious than SARS. Authorities in China checked thirty-eight people who had been in close contact with the now-quarantined South Korean, who had crossed from Hong Kong by bus and stayed in a Chinese hotel before going to the hospital. The World Health Organization has confirmed ten people in South Korea have contracted MERS. The Korea Centers of Disease Control and Prevention traced the introduction of MERS to a sixty-eight-year-old South Korean man who had traveled to the Middle East this spring.

3. Rising tensions in the South China Sea. The United States took its most confrontational approach to date in the South China Sea last week, flying a U.S. Navy P8-A Poseidon intelligence-gathering plane over a series of contested reefs controlled by China. On top of that, the Navy invited Jim Scuitto, a CNN correspondent, to join and record the mission. China’s land reclamation and construction activities have been well documented over the past couple months, and Beijing has responded with accusations that the United States is provoking tensions over the South China Sea, and that China’s construction work is within China’s sovereign rights. The surveillance imagery revealed that China had positioned motorized artillery pieces on one of the artificial islands, stoking further suspicion that they will be militarized.

4. Mass graves on Malaysia border with Thailand exhumed, twelve policemen arrested. The Malaysian police announced on Monday that 139 shallow graves, some containing more than one body, had been discovered on the border with Thailand. Authorities believe the graves hold the dead bodies of migrants who were held for ransom in jungle camps by gangs of human traffickers. Twelve Malaysian police officers have been arrested so far in connection with the uncovered graves. The shallow graves on the Malaysian border lie in the same vicinity as camps over the border in Thailand, where the Thai authorities discovered graves containing upwards of two dozen bodies earlier this month. This particular border area of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia has been a major transit point for human traffickers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar—many of them Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution.

5. UN calls for more aid to Nepal. The United Nations called on nations around the world this week to provide more food, aid, and shelter for the Nepalese as the one month anniversary passes since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the small nation. More than eight thousand people perished in the disaster and the UN has cited the need for relief more than reconstruction. As recent as one week ago, the U.S. military was still conducting rescue missions using army helicopters to access remote parts of the Himalayas where residents were still trapped from the quake.

Bonus: Johnny Depp’s illegal dog smuggling operation. After illegally bringing his two Yorkshire terriers into Australia on a private jet, Johnny Depp now faces repercussions. An Australian senate committee was told that if the case goes to court, the famous actor could receive a sentence of up to ten years in prison or a maximum fine of $262,000 for breaking quarantine laws. The pilot could face up to two years for aiding Johnny in his criminal endeavors.

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