Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. Japan clashes over military bills. A heated brawl broke out in Japan’s upper house of parliament on Thursday over contentious legislation that signaled the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy since the end of World War II. The package of eleven bills, which the lower house passed earlier this year under similarly contentious circumstances, will allow the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), to fight overseas and defend allied nations. Although the SDF have participated in a number of noncombat United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world, its capacity otherwise has always been limited to the direct defense of Japan. Supporters of the bills argued that Japan needed to loosen restrictions on the SDF to counter increasingly militaristic nations like China and North Korea, while detractors believed that such a move would violate Japan’s pacifist constitution and entangle the country in foreign conflicts. The legislation, which recent media polls said a majority of voters opposed, had drawn tens of thousands of protesters outside the parliament building in Tokyo over the past few weeks. Opposition to the bills, which passed late on Friday night, was nearly guaranteed to fail given that Prime Minister Abe’s ruling bloc holds a majority in the upper house.
2. United Nations report details Sri Lankan war crimes. A report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights outlined the crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s twenty-six-year civil war and made suggestions for reconciliation. Both the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are accused of atrocities including forced conscription by LTTE, and torture, unlawful killings, and disappearances by the Sri Lankan security forces. The war, which ended in 2009, resulted in an estimated one hundred thousand casualties. The report called for a special hybrid court composed of both international and local representatives, but the Sri Lankan government said that it would instead pursue an entirely domestic effort. Days before the report’s release, the government announced plans to establish a truth and reconciliation commission. The report, produced after six years of investigation, had initially been scheduled for release in March, but was delayed for six months to give the new government under President Maithripala Sirisena a chance to investigate the previous administration’s failure to prosecute certain suspects despite international pressure. A spokesman for the Sri Lankan government said that the family of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not guaranteed protection from allegations of war crimes.
3. North Korea bolsters nukes and announces satellite launch. Just one week after satellite imagery showed activity at the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea, the country has declared that it is increasing the “quality and quantity” of its nuclear arsenal. Official remarks by the director of North Korea’s Atomic Energy Research Institute reiterated the country’s stance on nuclear weapons, underscoring that they are a direct result of the United States’ “hostile policy” toward the country. Previously, North Korea’s foreign ministry has stated that the weapons are measures for self-defense and not bargaining chips. Earlier in the week North Korea also suggested that it might launch a satellite on October 10 for scientific purposes—which many believe is a cover for a disguised ballistic missile test—and to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The launch, which is the latest in a number of failed attempts and one success, could scuttle inter-Korean family reunions also planned for next month.
4. Uighur trafficking ring blamed for Bangkok bombing. Thailand’s chief of police has linked the bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok to Chinese Uighur Muslims, declaring that the perpetrators struck to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of Uighurs to China and Thailand’s dismantling of a human smuggling ring. If true, the bombing that took the lives of twenty people, most of them ethnic Chinese tourists, would be the first Uighur terrorist attack outside China. The Thai government has gone to lengths to avoid naming the suspect and connecting the deadly attack with Chinese Uighurs until now, fearing that it would create friction with Chinese allies and possibly harm its tourism industry that depends heavily on visitors from Chinese.
5. Nepal approves constitution after seven years of deliberation. On Sunday, a new constitution approved by Nepal’s three major parties (the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal [Unified Marxist-Leninist]), and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal [Maoist]) will go into force, dividing Nepal into seven federal states and establishing Nepal as a secular state. The document is not without criticism, however: of the 598 members of the constituent assembly, ninety-one either voted against the constitution or abstained from the vote. Those that voted against the document insist that Nepal is a Hindu nation and therefore reject the secular nature of the constitution, while those that abstained believe the document does not give an adequate voice to Nepal’s minority groups, the Tharu and Madhesi ethnic communities. Failure to bring the dissenters and abstainers into the fold could threaten political stability; violent protests by Madhesi groups have already broken out in southern Nepal. The political transition process leading up to this constitution—the seventh since 1948—began in 2006 at the end of the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
Bonus: Kissing eases allergies. Hajime Kimata, a medical doctor who specializes in allergology at a clinic in Osaka, Japan, shared this year’s Ig Nobel Prize in medicine for his 2003 research on kissing and allergies. The Ig Nobel Prize, which was created as a parody of the Nobel and first awarded in 1991, aims to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Dr. Kimata found that after thirty minutes of kissing while listening to soft music, his Japanese subjects, all non-habitual kissers who were allergic to dust mites or cedar pollen, displayed reduced reactions to those allergens. Although Dr. Kimata could not attend the awards ceremony, he communicated through a video message his hope that “kissing will bring not only love but also attenuation of allergic reaction.” Dr. Kimata joins a long list of celebrated Ig Nobel laureates from Japan, including individuals that studied the slipperiness of banana peels, the effects of opera on mouse heart-transplant patients, and the biochemical process by which onions make people cry.