from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 23, 2015

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October 23, 2015

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Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Xi Jinping visits the United Kingdom. Fresh off his trip to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an official visit to the UK, meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron. As with Xi’s U.S. trip, PRC propagandists have pulled no punches, airing warm and fuzzy videos explaining how good China-UK relations are and showing thousands of Chinese nationals “spontaneously” lining London’s streets to wave pro-China banners shipped in by the country’s UK embassy. Xi and Cameron signed an agreement to cooperate on cyber crime very similar to the one Xi negotiated with the U.S. last month. Xi has sweetened his UK visit with the announcement of more than $46 billion of Chinese investment into the country; in response, some have accused Cameron and his government of sucking up to the Chinese. The friendly atmosphere with which Xi was greeted stands in contrast to that in the U.S. last month, where Xi was met with the threat of economic sanctions and companies worried about China’s business climate.

2. First case of cancer linked to Fukushima. On Tuesday, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare announced that a former Fukushima nuclear plant worker will receive compensation for leukemia he developed as a result of participating in the plant cleanup effort. Although the forty-one-year-old man, who worked on the site for a year and was said to have been exposed to “relatively low” amounts of radiation, is the first person to receive compensation for his illness, he likely will not be the last. More than twenty thousand others have been exposed to enough radiation to have subsequent cancers qualify as occupational illnesses. The Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which owns the plant, has long been criticized for its cleanup practices and treatment of private contractors, who on average are exposed to much more radiation than company employees. Despite the billions of dollars spent on decontamination efforts, and the fact that radiation levels in many nearby communities have returned to safe levels, occupational cancer diagnoses like this week’s may hinder government efforts to encourage displaced residents to return home.

3. Korean families reunite. Approximately 640 South Koreans and 330 North Koreans are participating in two sets of reunions this week at North Korea’s Kumgang Mountain resort. Over the past six decades reunions between families split across the two Koreas have been rare, and the only other reunion to have taken place in the last five years was in February 2014. Cancellation of the meetings are frequent due to changes in the political climate. In September 2013, for example, the North Korean government cancelled a scheduled set of reunions and threatened to call off this round as well following a critique of North Korea’s human rights situation by South Korean President Park Geun-hye. A total of 18,800 Koreans have participated in all reunions, but an estimated 130,000 South Koreans were recorded in the government’s database as being separated from family members in North Korea. Just 66,000 remain on the list, as the rest are now deceased. Given the advanced age of many still on the waiting list, South Korea has given preference to elderly applicants in the lottery selection.

4. In a familiar gesture, Washington extends sale of new F-16s to Islamabad. During Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States this week, Washington had hoped to reach a deal addressing Pakistan’s expanding arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons. When Pakistan insisted they would not accept any limits on their nukes, Washington proceeded with plans to sell the country eight new F-16 fighter jets—a sale that many view skeptically due to the aircraft’s limited utility in counterterrorism operations. Following the recent announcement that the United States would maintain a presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016, the two sides discussed the regional security situation and the need for an Afghan-led peace process. The United States underlined “Pakistan’s role as a key counterterrorism partner” while continuing to press Pakistan to take action against all terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil, including Laskhar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network. The leaders also agreed to double down on the U.S.-Pakistan Knowledge Corridor, among other education and technology initiatives, and announced a new U.S.-Pakistan Clean Energy Partnership. Prime Minister Sharif invited business leaders to invest in Pakistan, insisting that the security situation had improved and that it would help to achieve regional integration and connectivity.

5. Typhoon hits the Philippines. A powerful storm named Typhoon Koppu struck the Philippines earlier this week, causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The typhoon hit the Philippine’s main island, Luzon, and lingered there for three days. Currently the death toll stands at fifty-four. Torrential rains caused by the typhoon have submerged coastal fishing and farming villages under almost ten feet of water in some places. This is the second typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, and the combined effect of the flooding has forced an estimated half a million people from their dwellings. The Philippines is struck by an average of twenty typhoons per year.

Bonus: Singaporean megachurch leaders convicted of fraud. Six Singaporean religious leaders were convicted in a case involving the unlikely combination of pop music, megachurches, and fraud. The individuals were members of the City Harvest Church, founded by Pastor Kong Hee, whose wife, Sun Ho, used church funds to launch her pop career. The group was accused of using an initial twenty-four million Singaporean dollars to pay for Ho’s singing, and then spending another twenty-six million Singaporean dollars to cover up the operation. Originally, Ho’s songs were intended to spread her faith, but her music gradually became more risqué. While her career never truly took off, she did appear in a 2007 song and music video with Wyclef Jean, a Grammy Award–winning musician. The trial, which lasted for nearly three years, drew much attention in Singapore, where the church has a congregation of over 17,500. Such a high-profile corruption scandal is unusual in Singapore, which is renowned for its clean government and rule of law. City Harvest Church also has numerous affiliate churches abroad, and the scandal may cast new light on the practices of other megachurches in Asia.

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