from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of October 31, 2014

A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters)

October 31, 2014

A member of a military rescue team pauses during search operations at the site of a landslide at the Koslanda tea plantation near Haldummulla on October 30, 2014. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy Reuters)
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Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Vietnam and India strengthen defense and energy ties amid territorial disputes with China. The two nations signed a number of agreements following a meeting this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Most notably, Vietnam agreed to further open its oil and gas sector to India, while India agreed to provide Vietnam with four off-shore patrol vessels. Prior to his two-day state visit, Dung called for a larger Indian role in the South China Sea, in spite of criticism from China. Both Hanoi and New Delhi are embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing: Vietnam in the South China Sea and India along the Himalayas.

2. Mudslide devastates Sri Lanka. After an onslaught of rain, a deadly mudslide wrecked a tea plantation a little over one hundred miles east of Colombo. Search operations for missing victims have been complicated by daunting weather and the absence of village records, which were buried in the avalanche. Around 120 homes were swept away and nearly two hundred people are feared to be dead, and hundreds of people have been evacuated from the area to overcrowded camps. Although the chances of finding survivors are slim, Sri Lanka has dispatched army soldiers, air force troops, policemen, and health and civic teams to aid rescue and relief efforts.

3. Retired Chinese general confesses to taking enormous bribes. After a seven-month investigation, Xu Caihou, former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and a former member of the Politburo, will be charged with bribery  after admitting to “extremely large” amounts of bribes through family members to help others gain promotion. Court martialed in June, Xu was was stripped of his military titles and expelled from the Communist Party. Beijing has touted the move as evidence of its commitment to President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign; former security chief Zhou Yongkang is expected to be the next high-level official to face corruption charges.

4. Singapore upholds law criminalizing gay sex. Singapore’s highest court ruled that a seventy-six-year old law criminalizing sex between men is in line with the city-state’s constitution, rejecting multiple appeals that the measure infringes upon human rights. The law prescribes a jail term of up to two years for men who publicly or privately engage in any act of “gross indecency.” At a time when support for same-sex marriage is increasing in the West, gay rights advocates across Asia are still struggling to secure protections. Brunei, for instance, has instituted strict laws that criminalize gay relationships; a British colonial-era law in India that criminalizes gay sex was reinstated by the supreme court last year; in Indonesia’s Aceh province, gay sex is punished with one hundred lashes. Progress for greater LGBT rights can be seen in New Zealand—the only Asia-Pacific country to legalize gay marriage—and Taiwan, where the annual pride march recently took over the streets of Taipei.

5. China, South Korea urge North Korea on denuclearization. Following a Sino-South Korean meeting in Beijing on Wednesday, chief nuclear envoys Hwang Joon-kook (South Korea) and Wu Dawei (China) expressed concern over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and discussed how to reopen the stalled Six Party Talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has been more vocal in its censure of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. Earlier this week in Seoul, Sydney Seiler, U.S. special envoy for Six Party talks, reiterated the U.S. position that North Korea must demonstrate its commitment to halting the development of its nuclear program before the United States would be willing to resume the Six Party Talks.

Bonus: Halloween causes controversy around Asia. Malaysia’s highest Islamic body, the National Fatwa Council, announced that Muslims should not celebrate Halloween, calling it a Christian celebration of the dead and “against Islamic teachings.” The council instead advised Muslims to remember the dead by reciting prayers and reading the Quran. The council also ruled that touching dogs is un-Islamic and condemned a dog-petting festival earlier this month. In unrelated news, Beijing banned Halloween costumes from its subways, afraid that they might cause “panic” or “stampedes.”

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