from Asia Unbound

Trump’s Asia, Delhi’s Smog, Park’s New PM, and More

November 11, 2016

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Asia braces for Trump. On Tuesday night, as results from the U.S. general election poured in from polling places across America, Asian markets reeled at the prospect of a Trump presidency. By Thursday, U.S. markets stabilized and Asian markets had bounced back. But what will a Trump in the White House mean for Asia in the coming four years? At this point, even experts’ best guesses are still uncertain. Trump’s foreign policy strategies are a contradictory bunch: an isolationist “America first” doctrine and protectionist trade practices, but an “extremely tough” approach to taking on U.S. enemies. So far, the signals from Trump’s campaign have been just as mixed. On “day one,” according to a former U.S. Treasury official, Trump may label China a currency manipulator, a decision former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called “ludicrous.” But at the same time, Trump spoke with both South Korea’s President Park and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe in a sign of reassurance from the United States to its allies in Asia. This week, two senior Trump advisors on Asia also published a Foreign Policy piece that put forth a vision of “peace through strength” whose policy prescriptions primarily attacked “bad trade deals” and proposed to increase the size of the U.S. Navy fleet. What will actually come to pass is anyone’s guess.

2. Delhi enveloped in life-threatening smog.  Hindus throughout the city of Delhi celebrated the holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights, on Saturday by lighting candles and lamps and setting off fireworks. Unfortunately, these joyful rituals exacerbated the metropolis’s preexisting pollution problem, sparking a week-long period of dangerous smog. The situation has forced the municipal government to close 1,800 schools, as well as impose a five-day moratorium on construction and a ten-day power plant closure; it is also advising residents to remain indoors. Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday to protest, as current levels of particulates are as dangerous as smoking two packs of cigarettes per day and 10 percent of the city’s workforce has been forced to call in sick. According to the World Health Organization, India currently houses thirteen out of the twenty most polluted cities on earth, with Delhi carrying the title of most polluted. Although changing weather conditions with the arrival of winter will dissipate the smog, poor city-dwellers often turn to the burning of trash, plastic, and rubber to keep warm. In addition, the various sources of pollution, including crop burning, vehicles, construction, and fireworks, all fall under the purview of different government agencies, which are oftentimes at odds with one another. Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s chief minister has compared the city to a “gas chamber,” and has said that the government needs to take “some urgent measures.”

3. President Park asks opposition parliament to nominate new prime minister. The recent announcement was a major political concession for South Korean President Park Geun-hye and fresh confirmation of her waning political authority as the scandal involving her ties to Choi Soon-shil continues to roil the country. Despite Park’s efforts to regain public trust by replacing much of her presidential staff and cabinet, surveys show that Park has a less than 5 percent approval rating. Tens of thousands of protestors continue to call for her resignation in demonstrations throughout South Korea. In a Tuesday meeting with the National Assembly’s speaker, Chung Sye-kyun, Park asked opposition parties to nominate a new prime minister. This occurred six days after Park’s proposed candidate for prime minister, Kim Byung-joon, was summarily rejected by the opposition parties that control a majority of the South Korean parliament. Investigations into Choi Soon-shil, the centerpiece of this political scandal, continue. Park has offered to cooperate with any prosecutorial probes, possibly becoming the first South Korean president to be investigated while in office. Prosecutors reported on Tuesday that they had raided the Seoul offices of Samsung, South Korea’s largest chaebol, a kind of large business conglomerate, investigating allegations that the chaebol provided $3.1 million to a company co-owned by Choi and her daughter. Choi was arrested on November 3 and faces allegations of using her friendship with the president to act as a kind of “shadow president” and solicit donations.

4. Cambodia’s Hun Sen using courts as a weapon against opposition. The deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, is the most recent target of a government that rights groups allege is using Cambodian courts as a willful weapon to suppress critics. Kem’s case is one of several facing opposition leaders in what is generally interpreted as an effort to upset the opposition’s organizing efforts for the local elections being held next June. Um Sam Ann, another opposition leader, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for criticizing the government’s handling of the Cambodia-Vietnam border demarcation. CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, currently in self-imposed overseas exile for the third time in a decade, is also facing legal troubles after an old conviction for defamation was reinstated and his parliamentary immunity was stripped by the government’s legislative majority. Although Cambodia is nominally a democracy, Hun has been Cambodia’s de facto leader for three decades. A 2013 general election, however, saw the CNRP mount a strong challenge to Hun’s control, winning fifty-five seats in the National Assembly and leaving Hun’s Cambodian People’s Party with sixty-eight. Many critics allege that Hun has prioritized the dismantlement of the political opposition since then, using complicit courts as a weapon against them.

5. India Bans 500 and 1,000 Rupee Notes.  In a surprise announcement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned the use of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes in an effort to crack down on corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion. These two high denomination bills comprise an estimated 85 percent of the currency currently in use in the country. By requiring individuals to change over their bills, officials hope to bring to light billions of dollars of assets that are not currently reported. But while there may be long-run benefits in improved tax collection and financial transparency, the immediate effect was a stock market drop. The change also led to a two-day ATM shutdown and to chaos at banks where customers attempted to switch their bills for new 500 and 2,000 rupees with added security features. The introduction of a new 1,000 rupee note is also underway. The transition has been particularly felt in cash-dependent rural areas, but will also have implications for everyone from nonresident Indian nationals to foreign visitors.

Bonus: Japanese augmented reality will hack your taste buds. At the University of Tokyo’s Cyber Interface Lab, researchers are using augmented reality—a combination of virtual reality and real-world objects—to trick how our brains process eating. Various headsets, detailed in this this video, can digitally manipulate the perceived size of a food item to affect how satiated a wearer feels while eating, or pump scents toward an eater’s nose that can suggest a wide variety of flavors. The effects can potentially reduce calorie intake by making the user believe he or she is eating more, or something different, than in reality. In some experiments, volunteers ate almost 10 percent less when a biscuit appeared 50 percent larger. Some companies, like Samsung, have also begun probing the “culinary virtual reality space” in other ways to offer state-of-the-art—albeit somewhat fictitious—fine dining experiences.

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