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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 31, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
May 31, 2013

Meat products of Shuanghui (Shineway) Group are seen on display on a shelf at a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province on May 31, 2013. Meat products of Shuanghui (Shineway) Group are seen on display on a shelf at a supermarket in Wuhan, Hubei province on May 31, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Chinese buy into America’s pork market. Chinese meat giant Shuanghui Group announced that it plans to acquire Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, for $4.7 billion. Both companies would benefit from the deal: Shuanghui would gain a steady and safe supply of pork while Smithfield would gain entry into the expansive Chinese market. If approved—the deal still needs to face the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) process, which assesses national security risks—it would be the largest Chinese acquisition of an American company to date. The deal is driven by higher demand for pork in China, where a burgeoning middle-class is spending more on meat products. Some American critics are concerned about Shuanghui’s poor food safety record; in 2011, the company was found to have sold pork laced with clenbuterol, a banned veterinary drug. The deal is expected to pass the CFIUS review, though it may face additional scrutiny from Congress and the American public—recall that public pressure forced Chinese oil giant CNOOC to withdraw an $18 billion bid for Unocal in 2005.

2. Donilon visits China. White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon visited China two weeks ahead of a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama in California. Donilon met with several senior Chinese leaders, including President Xi and Vice Premier Wang Yang. He also met with Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Fan Changlong to discuss closer military-to-military ties between the two countries, especially in international peacekeeping, fighting piracy, and disaster relief. The informal two-day summit between the two presidents will begin on June 7; this ChinaFile discussion, which includes CFR’s Elizabeth Economy, gives a good indication of what to expect (hint: trust, not treaties).

3. Hagel makes his first trip to Asia as Pentagon chief. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel traveled to Singapore on Friday to attend the Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual Asia-Pacific security conference. In his first trip to the region, Secretary Hagel reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the pivot to Asia despite severe budget cuts and is expected to address cybersecurity in his speech on Saturday. The secretary will meet informally with Chinese officials over the weekend as well, though Beijing only sent mid-level military officials to the conference to express its displeasure at Washington’s robust security presence in the region.

4. Violence continues in Myanmar. The northern city of Lashio was the site of more religious clashes between Muslims and Buddhists this week. The latest violence began when a Buddhist woman was set on fire by a Muslim man at a gas station, sparking riots. One Muslim man was killed, a mosque and other buildings were burned down, and five Buddhists were wounded. Authorities quickly deployed security forces to stem the violence. Myanmar’s government has been ridiculed in the recent past for its inability or unwillingness to confront Buddhist mobs.

5. China expresses interest in TPP. A Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman stated that China “will analyze the pros and cons as well as the possibility of joining” the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In the past, the United States has welcomed interest from other countries, including China. The other eleven nations of the TPP approved Japan’s entry into negotiations in April, hoping to conclude talks by the end of 2013. ASEAN, with support from China, recently began a separate trade agreement with fifteen other Asian countries, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Negotiations for RCEP are slated to conclude by the end of 2015.

Bonus: Graffiti outrage leads to soul-searching for Chinese tourists. Chinese netizens were outraged after seeing a photo of graffiti scrawled on the 3,500-year-old Luxor Temple in Egypt. The graffiti read “Ding Jinhao was here” in Chinese; the perpetrator was a fifteen-year-old Chinese tourist.

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