from Asia Unbound

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 6, 2013

September 06, 2013

An employee of a sushi restaurant takes a break as seafood stalls are seen at the Noryangjin fisheries wholesale market in Seoul on September 6, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters)
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Will Piekos and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.

1. Beijing goes to war against a former security tsar. Investigations of multiple senior executives at state-owned oil producer PetroChina seem to link back to a corruption case against domestic security tsar and former senior oil executive Zhou Yongkang. Zhou was in charge of the police and domestic security apparatus and was also a member of the Politburo’s standing committee until 2012. Zhou is not officially under investigation himself, though there are rumors that he is under house arrest. Officials under investigation include Li Chuncheng, deputy party secretary of Sichuan province, where Zhou was party chief for three years; Wu Yongwen, a secretary in charge of labor camps run by Zhou, and Jiang Jiemin, the minister responsible for overseeing Chinese state-owned assets and a protégé of Zhou.

2. U.S. considering restarting military ties with Myanmar. The Obama administration is considered restarting non-lethal military assistance for Myanmar for the first time in twenty-five years. Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with a former Burmese junta member in the first bilateral meeting between defense chiefs in twenty years. Military ties were cut in 1988 when the Burmese government gunned down protestors at a popular uprising. One possible reason for the proposed military aid is as an incentive for Myanmar to sever ties with North Korea. Some U.S. lawmakers are uncomfortable with giving military aid considering the government’s continued harsh treatment of minority groups such as Rohingya Muslims.

3. Chinese president Xi Jinping visits Central Asia to build economic, energy ties. Xi began his first tour of Central Asia since becoming president in March, traveling through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Energy policy has been the top concern on the tour, as China competes with Russia to import a significant amount of oil and natural gas from Central Asia. State-owned China National Petroleum Corporation signed a deal with Russian Gazprom to supply at least 38 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually, and the next day Xi inaugurated a gas processing facility in Turkmenistan that China lent $8 billion to build. The tour will end on September 13 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, with a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group that includes four Central Asian nations, China, and Russia.

4. South Korea bans fish imports from Japan’s Fukushima region. South Korea has instituted a total ban on fish from Fukushima and seven other Japanese prefectures due to new evidence that the waters may still be contaminated with nuclear waste after the 2011 nuclear facility meltdown. South Korea imported 5,000 tons of fish from the affected region last year. China has also maintained a ban on seafood, dairy, and vegetable imports since 2011. Earlier this week, the Japanese government announced the creation of a 50 billion yen emergency fund to build a barrier to prevent groundwater from leaking into nuclear reactor basements. The Japanese government emphasized that its seafood is safe and rigorously tested.

5. Millions prepare to vote in Australia’s general election. Australians are preparing to vote this week in an election that is expected to end six years of rule by the Labor Party. The Liberal-National coalition’s leader, Tony Abbott, is expected to oust Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Labor strategists have focused on reminding voters on Rudd’s mostly successful record in the economic crisis during his first term as prime minister. Australia took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month in the middle of the debate over the Syrian civil war; Rudd accused Abbott as being too cautious in his approach to Syria, saying that the conflict is “baddies versus baddies.”

Bonus: 400 million Chinese cannot speak Mandarin. More than 400 million Chinese nationals are not able to speak China’s national language, and millions more speak it poorly, according to Xinhua. There are hundreds of dialects of Chinese, including Cantonese and Hokkien, and many more languages in the country that are not in the same language family, such as Uighur, Tibetan, and Mongolian.