Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. Earthquake survivors in Afghanistan and Pakistan appeal for shelter and supplies. Just six months after a devastating earthquake in Nepal, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake shook geographically vulnerable regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The epicenter was reported 196 kilometers below the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan. Although the earthquake occurred much deeper than the Nepal earthquake, close to four hundred people have been reported dead, thousands suffered injuries, and many homes were destroyed by the quake and its aftermath. Three days on, many survivors remain without shelter in freezing conditions. Much of the affected area is mountainous and remote, and with communications disrupted in some places, rescue efforts have been severely hampered. To make matters worse, citizens in the area endured floods earlier this year so relief supplies typically on hand had not yet been replenished when the quake hit. In Afghanistan, the Taliban announced a ceasefire in the earthquake-affected regions and directed its members to provide support. Google launched its “Person Finder” service to assist in the search efforts—the same service that aided rescue operations in Nepal six months back.
2. China ends one-child policy. The Chinese Communist Party announced Thursday that it would allow couples to have two children, overturning a thirty-five-year-old policy limiting births to one child per couple. In 2013, facing an aging population, the government loosened the restriction by allowing couples to have two children if at least one parent was an only child. However, public response has been muted due to the high cost of raising a child, which may have led to the decision to eliminate the rule. Implementation of the one-child policy has long been a source of tension between citizens and the state in China, with the emphasis placed on hitting birth-rate targets often causing local government officials to resort to extreme measures like forcing women to have abortions or undergo sterilization. Eliminating the one-birth rule will not prevent such actions by local leaders, however; a change in the way the performance of local officials is assessed is necessary to remove incentives to restrict births. And even with the new rules, it may take years to overcome the negative effects of thirty years of family-planning policy, such as a severely skewed gender ratio.
3. Indonesian president plans to join TPP. During his visit to the United States this week, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced his nation’s intentions to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Indonesia is the sixteenth-largest economy in the world with a gross domestic product of nearly one trillion dollars, so if Indonesia joins the TPP it would be a major success for proponents of the trade deal. Although Jokowi entered office as an economic reformer, recently Indonesia’s economy dipped to a five-year low with youth unemployment above 20 percent. Joining the TPP, however, could bring considerable benefits. A 2012 study found that under the agreement the nation might increase exports by up to 20 percent by 2025. A fear that neighboring countries who have already signed on to TPP, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, may now attract a greater share of business could have also motivated Indonesia’s decision to join the trade pact. Jokowi’s push to join the TPP has sparked resistance in certain protectionist sectors of the government, and critics have questioned whether Indonesia possesses adequate infrastructure to compete if its markets become more open. Concerns may also arise over Indonesia’s environmental situation, especially given that Jokowi was forced to cut his U.S. trip short due to the ongoing forest fires that are causing a haze crisis across Southeast Asia and significantly increasing Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions.
4. Northeast Asian trilateralism puts South Korea at the center. On November 1, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will host Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul for the first trilateral summit in three years. President Park will then hold a separate bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe on November 2—the first between the two leaders. The two meetings come at a time of increasing regional tensions, particularly between China and Japan and between China and the United States. South Korea has an interest in ensuring that it does not get dragged into regional conflicts, becoming a “shrimp crushed between two whales,” as an old Korean adage goes. Hence, Park is seeking to improve South Korea’s relations with both China and Japan while reducing the overall tension level in Northeast Asia. She has built friendly relations with Xi and has signaled for a move toward a “two-track” approach to Japan, decoupling the inflammatory history and territorial issues from more concrete security and economic issues. At the same time, South Korea seeks to maintain a robust U.S.-ROK alliance as a hedge against China’s rise. Although the outcome of Park’s efforts will not depend on the upcoming trilateral summit alone, results from the summit should give a preview of South Korea’s ability (or inability, historically speaking) to influence the country’s strategic environment.
5. Zuckerberg defends Facebook’s free Internet plan in India. On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a town-hall-style meeting at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi to answer questions about Facebook’s plan to bring the Internet to millions of unconnected Indians. The project, Free Basics (known previously as Internet.org), provides a number of simple internet services, including a stripped-down version of Facebook, through a local cell phone carrier free of charge. But even with the attractive price tag the plan is a tough sell: many complain about the carrier’s signal strength and the lack of included services. More widely, some have criticized the project for violating net neutrality, the principle of providing equal access to all web content and applications, while others have argued that such “zero rating” products can be a good thing if enough competition between providers exists. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg reiterated Facebook’s commitment to net neutrality on Wednesday, and emphasized the “moral responsibility” he felt for bringing more people online in India.
Bonus: Chinese government encourages green burials. Due to the ageing population in China generally, and specifically in large cities, the Chinese government has embarked on a campaign to encourage green burials—burial practices that do not take up space—such as spreading ashes over an ocean. But so far the effort has been mostly unsuccessful. The government’s main concern is the scarcity of space for burying the dead, and some estimates show China’s current burial grounds reaching capacity in just six years. However, Chinese traditions dictate that people should show respect to their buried ancestors through offering gifts and making frequent visits to grave sites. Such traditions have proven to be a major hurdle to convincing the masses to opt for cremation and burial gardens. When faced with these options, many wonder how they will pay their respects to ancestors whose ashes have been scattered in a body of water or in a garden. In Beijing, the government set a goal to ensure half of its deceased citizens opt for a green burial by 2020. As for the program’s projected success? It doesn’t look too promising.