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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 26, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
April 26, 2013

A woman sits with her head down next to a damaged house after Saturday's earthquake hit Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, on April 22, 2013. A woman sits with her head down next to a damaged house after Saturday's earthquake hit Lushan county, Ya'an, Sichuan province, on April 22, 2013. (Darley Shen/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Earthquake kills scores, injures thousands in China. A massive earthquake in Ya’an, Sichuan, on Saturday left at least 193 dead, 25 missing, and 12,300 injured. Beijing poured one billion RMB into earthquake relief, but hundreds of victims still protested, claiming they had no shelter or food. Though devastating, the earthquake pales in comparison to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 70,000. Activists in Hong Kong struck down a proposal to donate $13 million to aid victims, saying that most aid during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake was misused. A 2009 Tsinghua University study claims that 80 percent of earthquake relief funds in 2008 went to government officials as “extra revenue.” The state-backed Red Cross Society of China, which has been singled out for corruption by netizens in the past, has received fewer donations thus far, as the public is increasingly turning to private organizations.

2. Japan reignites passions over World War II shrine. Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, and another 168 parliamentary members visited the Yasukuni Shrine to honor Japanese war dead, who include fourteen of the country’s Class A war criminals. Soon after, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe implied that Japanese actions during World War II couldn’t necessarily be labeled an ‘invasion,’ saying, “things that happened between nations will look different depending on which side you view them from.” In response, South Korea’s Foreign Minister canceled a planned trip to Japan, and South Korean officials summoned the Japanese ambassador to lodge a formal complaint. On the mainland, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that “we feel it is in essence a denial of Japan’s history of militarist invasion.” The visit furthers already fraught tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea; it could also make it more difficult for Japan and South Korea to cooperate on a unified response to North Korea’s recent actions.

3. Twenty-one killed in Xinjiang violence. Fifteen police officers and civilian officials and six suspected gangsters were killed in a clash the western province of Xinjiang on Tuesday. The incident is the deadliest in the remote Muslim-dominated province since ethnic clashes in 2009. Chinese officials claim that the incident was the result of a “premeditated, violent act of terror,” and the Global Times says the group “was working on an elaborate attack plan and was involved in extreme religious activities.” Uighur activist groups in exile dispute that accusation, asserting that violence broke out when Chinese forces shot and killed a young Uighur during a raid.

4. Human rights groups issue report on Myanmar. New York-based Human Rights Watch released a 153-page report describing attacks against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar as “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing.” The violence has left tens of thousands of Rohingya homeless and over 200 dead in 2012, with government officials and Buddhist religious leaders sometimes supporting the attackers, according to the report. Despite the report, the European Union voted to lift all economic sanctions on Myanmar save the arms embargo, which will last at least another year; the following day, President Thein Sein’s government released ninety-three political prisoners. Myanmar is set to become chair of ASEAN in 2014.

5. Border incident strains China-India relations. Indian media reports that a Chinese People’s Liberation Army platoon of fifty soldiers crossed into Ladakh, a region next to Kashmir, and pitched tents ten kilometers into the Indian-claimed territory. Indian troops have been dispatched to the area in response. Beijing disputed the reports and played down the event, saying “India and China are in close in communication to resolve the differences over the issue.” The two countries are holding talks to resolve the dispute, which some speculate was instigated by India’s construction of a road along the disputed Line of Actual Control.

Bird flu update: the H7N9 strain of avian influenza has infected 108 people and led to twenty-three deaths in China in the last two months. A fifty-three year old Taiwanese man was diagnosed with first case of bird flu outside of the mainland this week and was likely infected while in Suzhou for work.

Bonus: Miss Twilight Zone. It is already a well-known fact that South Korea has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery per capita. But things may have finally gone too far: blogs across Asia have pointed out that this year’s Miss Daegu contestants all look eerily similar.

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