Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Asia responds to Ebola crisis. In preparation for the possible spread of Ebola into East Asia, governments in the region are building on lessons learned from SARS and other Asia-based health epidemics, stepping up aid to Africa, and taking precautions at home. This week, China sent thousands of doses of an experimental Ebola drug to Africa. South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced she will send medical personnel to Africa. Meanwhile, Japan authorized the use of an anti-influenza drug that was shown to fight Ebola in animal tests in Europe, and amended an infectious disease law to allow medical samples to be taken from suspected carriers without their consent. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke this week with U.S. President Barack Obama as well as British, French, German, and Italian leaders, vowing to provide support to contain the epidemic, echoing earlier statements he made at the UN General Assembly. According to the latest count from the World Health Organization, nearly 9,000 people have been confirmed with or suspected of contracting Ebola, and over 4,000 people have died from the disease.
2. Police squeeze Hong Kong protests. Hong Kong police forces have started to move in more aggressively toward protest sites, using pepper spray and batons on protesters in Mong Kok on Friday. Earlier in the week, a similar operation successfully cleared an underpass in Hong Kong’s business district. In the process, police arrested dozens of demonstrators, and a local TV station caught footage of an arrested activist being taken to a dark corner by plainclothes officers and beaten. Seven officers have been suspended for the incident, but more importantly, the abuse seems to have given the sputtering Occupy Central movement renewed momentum. The possibility of negotiations, both directly and through negotiators, continues, though the government has made clear that it will not make concessions to the protesters.
3. Japan asks for and denied revision of UN comfort women report. The Japanese government requested a partial retraction from a 1996 report detailing abuses by Japanese military forces against Korean and other women forced to provide sexual services during World War II. Conservative politicians and activists in Japan challenge the veracity of some of the women’s testimonies. The Japanese government had sent a top diplomat to request the revision from the author of the 1996 UN report, former UN rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy, who had called upon Japan to apologize and pay reparations to the women. The renewed controversy comes as Japan’s leading left-leaning newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, printed a retraction of several articles it published on the topic in the 1980s and 1990s that were based on discredited claims by a former Japanese soldier. Coomaraswamy rejected the request for the revision, and it is unclear whether further actions will be taken.
4. South and North Korea military talks end without progress. The rare meeting took place Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom. Among the issues discussed was North Korea’s objection to the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea; on October 7, the North and South Korean navies exchanged fire near the NLL, prompting Pyongyang to suggest this week’s talks. Another of the Northern delegation’s complaints was South Korean activists’ slander of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; South Korea has refused to concede on the point, citing freedom of speech. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also urged North Korea to set a date for the high-level talks agreed to during the surprise visit by North Korean officials to the South earlier this month.
5. Malaysia takes the lead on combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Southeast Asia. Malaysian authorities arrested fourteen militants with suspected links to ISIS this week, bringing the total ISIS arrests in Malaysia to thirty-seven since April. Among the arrested suspects are men, women, students, and a Malaysian civil servant. The country’s defense minister called for regional cooperation to combat the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia and labeled the U.S.-led coalition efforts in Iraq and Syria “ineffective.” As ISIS continues to expand its recruitment efforts in Southeast Asia, concern is growing over the group’s potential to attract followers—particularly in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Bonus: Strange sea ‘alien’ discovered in Singapore. An angler in Singapore was in for a surprise when he reeled in what appeared to be a hundred-armed wriggling alien. He uploaded a video to Facebook that attracted almost eight million views, but experts have since identified the creature as a harmless basket star—a relative to the starfish with an underwhelming five arms.