Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. North Korea releases U.S. prisoner. On Tuesday, Pyongyang released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans currently detained in North Korea. Fowle, a fifty-six-year-old road maintenance worker from Ohio, was detained after he was found to have left a Bible in his hotel during a tour of North Korea; ownership of Bibles and missionary-related activities are illegal in North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no deal made for Fowle’s release and urged Pyongyang to release the two other detainees, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. North Korea has recently been outspoken in its defense of its treatment of political prisoners and rejection of U.S. and UN allegations of human rights violations.
2. Chinese Communist Party wraps up Fourth Plenum. China’s top leaders finished their four-day plenary session on Thursday, pledging to enhance the rule of law. Though details of the proceedings have yet to be released, the CCP issued a communique at the close of the plenum on “comprehensively advancing ruling the country according to the law” (in Chinese; Xinhua has a partial translation here). According to the communique, the party will seek to: lessen local officials’ control over the legal system, increase accountability and transparency, stress the importance of the constitution, and maintain the CCP’s authority over the rule of law. Though legal analysts welcomed the emphasis on rule of law, it remains clear that the party retains absolute control over the levers of China’s judiciary.
3. Japanese ministers resign. In a setback to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to promote women in the workforce, so-called “womenomics,” two of the five recently appointed female cabinet ministers resigned their posts for unrelated reasons on Monday. Yuko Obuchi, minister of economy, trade, and industry who had been tasked with regaining public support for restarting Japan’s shuttered nuclear plants, is under attack for questionable accounting procedures carried out by political organizations tied to her. Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned for violating political finance laws after opposition politicians criticized her for handing out hand-held fans to supporters for free. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abe appointed Yoko Kamikawa as the new justice minister and Yoichi Miyazawa as the new trade minister, but already Miyazawa is under attack after it surfaced that one of his support groups had spent nearly $200 at a sadomasochism-themed bar. The latest events have led some to question the stability of the Abe Administration, though resignations and scandals are not unprecedented for Japanese cabinets.
4. Murder in the Philippines strains ties with the United States. A U.S. Marine accused in the killing of a twenty-six-year-old Filipin0 woman was placed in custody in the Philippines on Wednesday. Some Filipino senators used the case as a chance to call for a review of the U.S.-Philippine military alliance, which allows the United States to station ships, aircraft, and other equipment in the country. The U.S. embassy said that it would cooperate with the trial according to Philippine law, but also exert its right to keep Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton under U.S. custody. The United States and Philippines signed a ten-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in April with the intention of making it easier for the U.S. military to temporarily station personnel in the country. The agreement came as the Philippines, with a weak air force and navy, is in the midst of territorial disputes with China.
5. Indonesia swears in a new president. Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, took the presidential oath of office on Monday during a nationally televised special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly in Jakarta. After Jokowi was inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president, he and Vice President Jusuf Kalla rode through central Jakarta to the presidential palace in an open horse-drawn carriage. Hailed as “the people’s president,” Jokowi has already pledged to fight for free health care, twelve years of schooling to every Indonesian, and increased investment in the agricultural sector. Entering office with these—and other—domestic concerns in mind, his administration will face its first tests in the foreign policy realm with meetings of APEC, ASEAN, the East Asian Summit, and G-20 leaders scheduled in November.
Bonus: Popular saxophonist Kenny G strikes a bad note in China. Stopping by the pro-democracy protest camp in Hong Kong before a performance, Kenny G threw up peace signs and posed for photos with fans. Chinese government officials—although admitted admirers of his music—expressed their disapproval in a scheduled news conference, prompting Kenny G to delete the photos from his Twitter account and clarify that he was “not supporting the demonstrators.”