Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.
1. China released a white paper on defense on Tuesday. The 2013 National Defense White Paper blamed Japan and the United States for the rise in tensions in the region (in so many words). It complained about neighboring countries for “making trouble over the Diaoyu islands,” referring to Japan. It also referenced the United States, saying, “some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation tenser.”
The white paper omitted any reference to a “no-first use” policy on nuclear weapons for the first time, a possible change in China’s nuclear policy. It is unclear what the significance of this omission is, though, as experts have questioned China’s commitment to this policy in the past.
2. Shifts in North Korea policy? China’s special envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, will travel to Washington, DC, next week for “an in-depth exchange of views” on the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The announcement comes after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing and urged China to help convince the North to get rid of its nuclear weapons. Kerry has also indicated a readiness to talk with North Korea, as long as it takes steps toward denuclearization. Meanwhile, Pyongyang announced its own preconditions for resuming talks with Washington and Seoul, demanding the withdrawal of UN sanctions and the end of U.S.-South Korea military drills. North Korea’s willingness to discuss even the possibility of dialogue hopefully signals a desire to deescalate the tensions that have plagued the Korean Peninsula.
3. China GDP growth slows to 7.7 percent. New economic data in the first quarter of 2013 showed slower-than-expected growth that surprised analysts, who had forecasted growth of around 8 percent. It’s possible that even that number is inflated, given that there are strong incentives for local government officials to inflate their numbers for promotions; the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics only takes two weeks to compile its data, compared to six weeks in Hong Kong and eight weeks in the United States. For years, China’s stated goal was to secure 8 percent GDP growth, in a policy called “bao ba (保八),” or “protect the eight,” on the premise that the country needed that level of GDP growth to maintain domestic stability.
4. Bird flu fears increase. The numbers keep rising, as China has now confirmed ninety-one cases of H7N9 and raised the death toll to seventeen. Meanwhile, fears of human-to-human transmission have intensified—the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 40 percent of people who have tested positive for H7N9 had no recent contact with poultry. Still, such fears seem premature, and the World Health Organization has stated that there is “no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission.”
5. Chinese national killed in Boston bombing. Lu Lingzi, a graduate student at Boston University from Shenyang, was confirmed as a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing issued visas to her parents, as well as to the parents of a second Chinese student injured in the attack. China’s new ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, stated that “We strongly condemn such an act of terror targeted at innocent civilians. We stand with the United States. We are ready to further our cooperation with the United States in fighting terror.”
Bonus: Rodman to return to North Korea, says Kim Jung-un just needs a hug. The basketball star is planning his second “diplomatic” visit to North Korea. Dennis Rodman claims that the most recent increase in tensions is because “[Kim] just wants to be loved. He just wants to sit down and talk. That’s all.” The Worm, as Rodman is affectionately known, also says he’s been approached by the FBI for insider information into the North Korean regime. In unrelated news, North Korea recently released its most hilarious propaganda video yet, claiming that Americans drink coffee made out of snow and that North Korean aid workers hand out cakes in the streets. Watch it here, dubbed in English. (Update: the video is a hoax, but the comedic factor remains. Enjoy!)