Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.
1. Xi and Li begin their first week in office. Though the world has known who China’s chosen leaders are since November, the National People’s Congress (NPC) officially rubber-stamped Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang’s ascension to the roles of president and prime minister, respectively, last Thursday. In his first diplomatic meetings since taking office, Xi met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to discuss the most recent tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, before leaving for Moscow for his first diplomatic trip. The country’s new foreign policy team was announced during a news conference on Saturday, with no great surprises. Departing foreign minister Yang Jiechi was promoted to the country’s top diplomatic position of state councilor, and he is to be replaced by Wang Yi, the former Chinese ambassador to Japan. The ten-year tenure of China’s central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan was extended, signalling that China will continue its change toward a more market-driven economy.
2. The Koreas are the newest victims of cyberattacks. Three news broadcasters and two national banks in South Korea reported that their computer networks crashed after cyberattacks on Wednesday. Seoul has tentatively cast blame on North Korea for these attacks, especially since North Korea had named those broadcasters specifically, saying that they “will come under fire in an unimaginable and unusual way.” The attacks came a day after Pyongyang claimed its websites were attacked by South Korea and the United States.
3. China’s military reach is growing. China has become the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter in the world, knocking Britain down the list, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Meanwhile, China announced another double digit increase in military spending at the NPC. At the same time, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter promised that the U.S. budget cuts won’t affect U.S. military readiness in the region during a visit this week to Seoul. Xi Jinping has been reported to be more hawkish and military-oriented than his predecessors.
4. Tibetan self-immolations continue to increase. Since February 2009, 109 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of the Chinese government’s actions in the region, according to the International Campaign for Tibet. The number of immolations has continued its incremental rise since the National Party Congress in November, when twenty-eight Tibetans self-immolated in that month alone. Last week, Chinese authorities arrested the husband of a Tibetan woman who set herself on fire March 13, accusing him of murdering his wife and setting her body on fire to hide the evidence.
5. Talks continue towards a three-way Asian free trade agreement. Japan, China, and South Korea, who together represent 40 percent of world’s economic output, will hold three rounds of talks this year to negotiate a free trade agreement. Negotiations toward a free trade agreement—along with a new foreign policy team well-versed in Sino-Japanese affairs—could help warm relations between China and Japan following tensions in the East China Sea over the past few years. Beijing is anxious to engage in these talks, as Shinzo Abe recently announced Japan will enter talks to join the eleven-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement led by the United States, which currently does not include China.