Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. Hard-line Buddhist monks sway politics in Myanmar. One of the most influential groups in Myanmar’s upcoming election may not be a political party, but a nationalist Buddhist group called the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion. The group, better known by the acronym Ma Ba Tha, does not officially back any party. However, the controversial monk and Ma Ba Tha member Ashin Wirathu, who was imprisoned for stoking anti-Muslim attacks in 2003, has expressed support for the Union Solidarity and Development Party rather than Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Ma Ba Tha has already demonstrated its political clout and wide popular support, playing an important role in the recent passage of four “race and religion” laws that regulate interfaith marriages, ban polygamy, require government permission for religious conversion, and institute strict family planning policies. These laws were deemed discriminatory toward Muslim and minority groups by human rights organizations. Nonetheless, on October 4, 2015, Ma Ba Tha supporters filled a 30,000-seat stadium in Yangon to celebrate their passage, and similar celebrations were held across the country. If Ma Ba Tha continues to push its politics during the election, Myanmar’s already controversial contest may become even more fraught.
2. China announces regulations for ride-sharing services. On Saturday, the Ministry of Transport released draft regulations that will require online car-hailing services to only use drivers with special government licenses and keep customer data within China. While the rules say that prices for ride-shares should be driven by the market, they also allow local governments to set prices according to local conditions, a measure that officials said will “maintain the stability of the industry and promote fair competition between new and old industries.” Local governments across China have opposed online ride-sharing services like Uber because they are cheaper and more convenient, and thus more popular with customers, than traditional taxi services, which are often owned by the municipal government. While the new regulations may prove onerous for all ride-sharing services, local implementation may favor incumbent firms like Didi Kuaidi over relative newcomers such as Uber. Last week, Didi Kuaidi has was issued an official operating license by the Shanghai city government, a move that heightened concerns that recent innovations in Chinese tech policy are aimed at stifling foreign competition.
3. A new Nepal PM faces pressing challenges. Following the passage of a new constitution, members of Nepal’s parliament held an election for prime minister on October 11 according to the plan laid out in the new document. Khadga Prasad Oli, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), won 338 votes out of a total of 587 that lawmakers cast, beating the incumbent prime minister Sushil Koirala. Nepal’s thirty-eighth prime minister will face immediate challenges, including defusing protests among Nepal’s Madhesi community over the new constitution and grappling with the reconstruction of Nepal after the devastating earthquakes this year. In a positive first step, Oli reached an eight-point agreement with the leaders of a Madhesi party and the Maoist party to address grievances over the constitution. Nepal is also dealing with fuel shortages due to an unofficial blockade between India and Nepal that has aggravated relations between the two countries. The new deputy prime minister of Nepal is set to visit India next week to discuss mutual concerns.
4. Okinawa and Tokyo battle over Marine Corps base relocation. On Tuesday, Governor of Okinawa Takeshi Onaga revoked permission for the construction of a new U.S. Marine Corps base in Henoko Bay, a relatively less-populated area of the island. The U.S. and Japanese governments have been trying to relocate the Futenma Air Station, another base located in a more densely populated spot, for two decades; in 1996 the local and central governments agreed that the land the base currently occupies would be returned on condition that a replacement facility were built elsewhere within Okinawa. Onaga’s predecessor, Hirozaku Nakaima, granted permission for land reclamation in Henoko Bay in December 2013, but Onaga was elected on a promise to halt the project and relocate the base outside of Okinawa. Responding to Onaga’s announcement, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) made an administrative appeal to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT), which has ultimate jurisdiction over the type of construction permit revoked by the governor. If the MLIT rejects the governor’s order, the construction may restart as early as November after being halted by the central government, and the local government is likely to bring this case to court to prevent it. On Thursday, Masahisa Sato, the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Committee on National Defense, said the MOD needs to be ready for a legal dispute with the Okinawa government.
5. South Korea rewrites its history books. On Monday, South Korea announced that in 2017 all secondary schools will be required to teach history from government-issued textbooks. President Park Geun-hye, whose conservative government backed the measure, defended the move and stated that the books will inculcate students with “historical convictions and pride.” Other supporters said that the eight history books currently in use, which are privately published, have “historical errors” or contain anti-state views. Critics accuse President Park of using the books to sanitize the history of South Korean conservative elites like her father, the former military dictator Park Chung-hee, and others who collaborated with the colonial Japanese government during the early twentieth century. Other civic groups and educators argued that the revised books would be a global embarrassment, and would establish a system of textbooks resembling North Korea’s. In recent years, South Korea has accused Japan of sterilizing its own history books, and the two countries have long engaged in a battle over textbooks.
Bonus: Kim Jong-un fires sister over “security lapse.” Kim Jong-un reportedly fired his sister Kim Yo-jong from her position overseeing the North Korean leader’s personal protection. According to the report, she repeatedly failed to shield the dictator from a series of unfortunate incidents, such as almost being hit in the face by a guitar and being surrounded and overwhelmed by a crowd of admirers. As the sister of the supreme leader, Kim Yo-jong rapidly rose through the ranks despite being only twenty-six, but organizing the leader’s personal protection was apparently above her level of experience.