Ashlyn Anderson, Rachel Brown, Lincoln Davidson, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, and Gabriel Walker look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. Xi Jinping visits the United States. The Chinese president arrived in Seattle Tuesday, delivering a dinner speech to business leaders, touring a Boeing factory, visiting Microsoft, and stopping for a photo with tech industry executives (cartoonishly rendered as a GIF by the Cyberspace Administration of China). While Xi’s speeches hit all the right notes, many U.S. companies say the Chinese government is making the climate increasingly unwelcoming for foreign businesses in China. On Thursday, Xi headed to Washington, DC, for meetings with President Obama, and in a few days will continue on to New York for the UN General Assembly meeting. The two also announced greater people-to-people exchanges: a million U.S. students studying Mandarin by 2020; an expansion of last year’s carbon emissions commitment (including a Chinese cap-and-trade program); and a landmark agreement on cyberspace, promising no state-sponsored economic espionage, cooperation in responding to cyber incidents, and a ministerial-level dialogue and hotline for malicious cyber activity. While it remains to be seen whether China upholds these commitments and how the two sides define the fuzzy language used in their joint statement, this is an important step forward on an issue long seen as intractable. However, despite the progress, the bilateral relationship is still chilly because of a number of contentious issues, such as Chinese activities in the South China Sea, and both leaders will face pressure at home to renege on their promises.
2. United States investigates Malaysian PM for corruption. After massive protests in late August called for the resignation of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a U.S. federal grand jury is now investigating Mr. Razak on accusations of corruption. The inquiry, conducted by the Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Initiative, is examining both a $681 million payment made to a bank account believed to belong to Mr. Najib and a number of luxury U.S. properties purchased by shell companies owned by Mr. Najib’s stepson and a family friend. Investigators in a number of other countries, including Switzerland, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates, have also begun to examine allegations against Mr. Razak in the past few weeks. Ironically, Mr. Razak was scheduled to give the opening speech at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, but decided not to after growing international controversy. The U.S. investigation could drag on for years, as government officials are only just beginning to determine whether Mr. Razak violated any federal laws.
3. India signs $2.5 billion deal for new U.S. attack and heavy-lift helicopters. On Tuesday, India finalized a deal with the United States for 2.5 billion dollars to buy twenty-two Apache helicopter gunships and fifteen heavy-lift Chinooks from Boeing. This is the single biggest defense contract signed in the first sixteen months of the National Democratic Alliance government. Although the deal was finalized two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States and on the day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s arrival, U.S. officials emphasized that there was no intent to strengthen India in order to counter China. This deal means that the United States will replace Russia, India’s Cold War–era ally, as India’s main supplier of weapons. The contract also includes an option for an additional order of eleven more Apaches and four Chinooks.
4. North Korea replaces key officials in charge of weapons development with younger officials. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday that two noticeably younger-looking officials, Kim Chun-sop, a newcomer to the country’s National Defense Commission, and Hong Yong-chil, the deputy director of the machine-building industry department at the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), seem to have replaced the eighty-seven-year-old Ju Kyu-chang and seventy-one-year-old Park To-chun, respectively. The change is likely part of the ongoing leadership shake-up that seems to have accelerated since Kim Jong-un’s uncle-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, was executed in December 2013. Since Kim Jong-un came to power in December 2011, between 20 and 30 percent of North Korea’s top officials and 40 percent of the country’s top military officers were “replaced,” according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service’s reporting in July of this year. Whether the leadership swaps signal instability within the Kim regime or represent Kim’s efforts to consolidate power is unclear. The younger officials, however, are still much older than the supreme leader, who is only in his early thirties, and likely were part of the North Korean political system long before the young Kim came to power.
5. Vietnam seeks closer ties with Japan. Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, visited Japan for the first time since he assumed his current position in 2011. Japan and Vietnam have strengthened ties in recent years partially due to shared security concerns regarding maritime disputes with China in the East and South China Seas, respectively. Over the course of his visit, Nguyen repeatedly called for improved bilateral defense and security cooperation. Japanese President Shinzo Abe announced that Japan would provide Vietnam with two used vessels in addition to the six used ships that Japan had promised in August 2014. Outside of military cooperation, Japan, which is Vietnam’s biggest provider of foreign aid, also committed to providing Vietnam with an official development assistance loan of 100 billion yen (around 836 million dollars). Since assuming office in 2013, Abe has emphasized improving relations with Southeast Asian nations and in 2014, Japan and Vietnam upgraded their relationship to an extensive strategic partnership.
Bonus: The Guinness World Records reference book makes room for Japan’s geriatric sensation. 105-year-old Hidekichi Miyazaki impressed health officials and the public when he completed the 100-meter dash in 42.22 seconds. Since no one above the age of 105 has ever held any record in sprinting, Miyazaki automatically earned himself a spot in the Guinness World Record reference book. Still, Miyazaki fretted over his performance, vowing to train harder to redeem himself. Nicknamed “Golden Bolt,” after the Jamaican sprinter who is regarded as the fastest man on earth, Miyazaki flashed Bolt’s signature “lightning” pose when crossing the finish line.