Jared Mondschein looks at the key stories in Asia behind the headlines.
Another Unfortunate First for China – Already the largest consumer and producer of coal in the world, China has now reached another milestone with one of the dirtiest of energy sources: It now imports more coal than any other country. Japan had been the top importer of coal since 1976, but China’s rapid economic growth and consequent energy demand have forced Beijing to seek energy sources wherever they can find them. Even more concerning: China’s coal consumption is projected to increase every year for the next fifteen years.
Unreliable Chinese Statistics in Social Media? – China-based DoNews reports that Sina Weibo, China’s alternative to Twitter, broke Twitter’s record for the most number of posts per second over the Chinese New Year, with an average of 32,312 posts per second (Twitter’s record was 25,088 from a December showing of “Castle in the Sky” on television in Japan). A recent HP Labs paper on Sina Weibo, however, leads to questions about the authenticity of the record: The study found that almost a third of all posts and almost half of retweets were actually spam. It might be worth waiting until authorities crack down on spammers as thoroughly as they do on dissidents online to recognize the record officially.
Tone Deaf Global Times Editorial of the Week – As Josh Kurlantzick noted last week, China’s image in the Philippines–where many pined for a U.S. exit only twenty years ago–is deteriorating. With the recent announcement of discussions on increased security relations between Washington and Manila on the heels of the U.S. “pivot” to Asia, the nationalistic Global Times has decided that China has had enough: “Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the United States. To this end, China may consider cooling down its business ties with the Philippines.” It’s doubtful, however, that the government will heed advice from the Global Times on this matter: In China’s ever important quest for resources, the Philippines is a growing source of key commodities, including iron ore, copper, and nickel.
Preparing for Conflict – A lot of headlines are coming out of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s congressional testimony on worldwide threats on Tuesday. While U.S.-based media highlighted his remarks on Iran, Clapper also made interesting remarks on the countries east of Iran, specifically India and China. He argues in his prepared remarks that the Indian Army doesn’t believe a conflict with China is imminent but is still “strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border.” Could this be the latest pressure point in Asia?
Chinese Soft Power in Taiwan – Beijing has been quite open about the fact that it hopes that increased economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland will bring about closer political ties and eventually unification. The Washington Post profiles Tsai Eng Meng, a Taiwanese businessman who “can’t wait” for unification but who also happens to be the third-richest person in Taiwan, with major business interests in the mainland through his Want Want Group. Tsai denies that his pursuit of closer ties to the mainland is based on financial interests, but it’s hard to believe that he and other wealthy Taiwanese citizens supportive of unification merely want to, as the Post writes, “help Taiwan get over its wariness of the mainland.” According to one poll, wariness of the mainland–despite ever-increasing economic ties–actually increased in 2011 from the year before.