Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Mass graves of human trafficking camp unearthed in Thailand. Police exhumed twenty-six bodies at a mass grave located in the jungles of Songkhla province this week. Most of the migrants once held at the now abandoned site were Rohingya Muslim refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to reports, this camp was made up of “bamboo cages, watchtowers and what Thai police described as a torture room.” Even as the grave was discovered, more than fifty Thai police officers were punished over suspected links to human trafficking networks. The mass grave was hardly the first indicator that Thailand has a booming human trafficking business and it remains to be seen if the Thai government can successfully undertake steps necessary to combat human trafficking.
2. China gets serious about environmental protection. China’s cabinet released a thirty-five clause guideline document on Tuesday vowing to achieve “major progress” in improving its environment by 2020. The document defined a “red line” stating that there was to be no further deterioration of air quality, soil quality, or water quality. The document stated that by 2020 China would aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 to 45 percent from the 2005 level, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent. China has promised to impose stricter consequences on officials whose decisions are found to cause serious environmental damage. The State Council announced that those officials found guilty, would be held accountable for their lifetime. Officials who fail to improve water, air, and soil pollution levels will no longer be eligible for promotion. This adds an important dimension to evaluating the performance of cadres who were previously only graded on their ability to stimulate economic growth.
3. Thirteen years later, Bollywood superstar faces consequences for his reckless actions. In 2002, Bollywood actor Salman Khan drunkenly drove his car over five sleeping homeless people, killing one man. Khan fled the scene, and has escaped charges for thirteen years due to the bottle-necked court system in India. He was sentenced to five years in prison this week; however Mumbai’s high court suspended the sentence—a rare move—pending his appeal. The Bollywood community and loyal fans were quick to defend the famed actor who has starred in more than eighty films. Police complaints were filed after a Bollywood singer and jewelry designer made remarks on Twitter that placed the blame on the homeless people for sleeping in the roads in the first place.
4. Joint Philippine-Japanese anti-piracy drill shakes up Asian waters and draws China’s criticism. Philippine and Japanese coast guard teams staged an anti-piracy drill on Wednesday in the Manila Bay. The exercise, which featured the storming of a cargo vessel after a mock hijacking, showed growing cooperation between these two nations as tensions rise in Asian seas. The two countries share a joint concern for increasing Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China Seas due to its continued dispatch of coast guard and fishing vessels into disputed waters. Witnessed by the heads of seventeen Asian coast guards, including China, this is the first time that Japan and the Philippines have conducted a joint exercise since signing a 2012 agreement to strengthen bilateral ties. In response, China called for peace and stability in the region.
5. Noise from North Korea on its capabilities and intentions. After claiming that the South Korean Navy entered North Korean waters in the Yellow Sea, Pyongyang warned that it will “strike without any prior warning at any warship of the South Korean Navy intruding” into its waters. A South Korean official called the warning “insane,” asserting that its naval ships did not cross the maritime line of demarcation. Also this week, in a rare interview with CNN, a senior North Korean official spoke about its nuclear capabilities and Pyongyang’s intention to use them if the United States “forced their hand,” as well as human rights allegations in North Korea. Separately, a New York University student currently in North Korean custody spoke to CNN saying that he wanted to be arrested in order to bring peace between North and South Korea.
Bonus: Jackie Chan named Singapore’s first celebrity anti-drug ambassador. Months after his son finished serving a short prison stint for drug offenses in China, Jackie Chan has been named Singapore’s first celebrity anti-drug ambassador. Jackie told journalists that drugs hurt young people and offenders should be punished with the death penalty.