Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.
1. Obama and Xi convene in Sunnylands. The much-touted two-day summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping began on Friday. Cybersecurity and North Korea are expected to be topics raised by the U.S. side, while China would like to hear more about the U.S. pivot to Asia. Experts are generally hopeful that the summit will increase familiarity, though most are quick to temper any hopes of real deliverables coming from the meeting. For its part, China’s state-sponsored Global Times states that the summit “represents not only a conversation in which both leaders can exchange ideas on important global issues, but also puts forward a glimpse of what China’s future might look like when it catches up with the United States.”
2. Positive steps on the Korean Peninsula. On Thursday, North Korea proposed government-to-government talks, which would be the first in years. Pyongyang also offered to reconnect a Red Cross hotline that was cut in March following North Korea’s February 12 nuclear test. The two Koreas are planning talks to discuss a proposed cabinet-level meeting in Seoul, which would be the first in six years. The new diplomatic efforts are a welcome reprieve from months of bellicose rhetoric from the North and heightened tensions on the Peninsula; how long the détente lasts, however, is remains an open question.
3. Japan and France tighten nuclear ties. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande met in Tokyo on Friday to discuss nuclear and defense ties. The two leaders signed a five-year action plan to work together to supply nuclear technology to export markets. Though the two countries are competitors in nuclear-reactor exports, the cooperation is seen as a response to cheaper Chinese reactors. Tokyo has expressed concern to Paris about French military exports to China.
4. China and Vietnam establish a naval hotline. The defense ministries of China and Vietnam agreed to set up a hotline between their respective navies. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA, stated that “amid rapid changes in international and regional situation, it is significant that the two countries hold talks on defence and security issues, seek effective control of the current disputes and solutions to related issues.” The hotline will hopefully serve as another outlet to resolve flare-ups in the South China Sea. All is not well between the two countries however, as a rare demonstration occurred in Hanoi against China on June 3. Many Vietnamese citizens feel that China is bullying Vietnam in the South China Sea and the government is not doing enough in response.
5. Poultry plant fire in China is one of the worst in years. A fire at a poultry plant in northeast China on Monday killed 120 and injured seventy-seven. Two senior executives of Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company were detained as part of a criminal investigation that uncovered major security breaches—the plant lacked fire extinguishers and locked nearly all the exits to prevent employees from leaving. The same factory had burst into flames once before, four years ago. About 70,000 workers are killed on the job each year in China.
Bonus: Chinese high school students take gaokao (college entry exam). On Friday, nine million high school students began the three-day-long gaokao, China’s college entrance exam. This year, students will only be allowed to take the test where they hold a hukou, or household registry, rather than their current residence. The gaokao has long been criticized for its lack of creativity and testing non-essential information. It includes essay prompts such as “Why chase mice when there are fish to eat?”