Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week. There will be no Friday Asia Update next week, June 21st.
1. Leaked NSA information could hurt U.S.-China ties; Snowden makes it to Hong Kong. Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine year-old Booz Allen Hamilton employee and contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), fled to Hong Kong shortly before leaking information about a secretive NSA program called Prism. From Hong Kong, Snowden told Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post that the U.S. government has been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and mainland China for years. The unverified records show specific dates and IP addresses of computers in Hong Kong and the mainland and suggest a 75 percent success rate. The U.S. Congress is currently probing Snowden’s background to discover if he has any ties to Chinese authorities. Multiple Chinese news sites have dedicated entire pages to the Snowden case, declaring “China opposes cyberattacks,” “the U.S. is a hacking empire,” and “Uncle Sam, Double Standards!” The case has overshadowed the recent meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping and will make cooperation on cybersecurity between the two countries even more difficult than it already was.
2. Obama and Abe discuss cooperation in the East China Sea. U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed the territorial dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea during a phone call on Wednesday. Though the White House has tried to avoid taking a hard position on ownership of the disputed islands, Japan is a treaty ally of the United States. The two leaders also discussed nuclear threats from North Korea, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Obama’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
3. Vietnam’s leader takes a hit in confidence vote. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung survived Vietnam’s first confidence vote, with almost a third of lawmakers giving him a “low-confidence” ranking. Most of the low confidence votes were because of Dung’s economic policies and the country’s economic leaders—State Bank Governor Nguyen Van Binh received the largest numbers of low confidence votes. Vietnam’s economy is expected to grow only 5.5 percent this year, the first time since 1988 that it will be below 6 percent.
4. Chinese communist and Taiwanese nationalist leaders meet in Beijing. Chinese President and Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping hosted Taiwanese Kuomintang (Nationalist) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung in Beijing in a high-level meeting on Thursday. Xi called on both sides to “heal the historical trauma” of the 1949 split between the mainland and Taiwan. At the same time, the leader of Taiwan’s opposition (and pro-independence) Democratic Progressive Party, Su Tseng-chang, said that he would boost military spending if elected in a speech in Washington, DC.
5. Meeting between Koreas cancelled. Talks between North and South Korea to diffuse tensions were abruptly cancelled after the two sides could not agree on the composition of the delegations. Seoul originally intended to send its Minister for Unification, but Pyongyang only put forward a vice minister; taking this as a slight, the South downgraded its delegation to the Vice-Minister for Unification, and in response the North withdrew its offer of talks. Pyongyang failed to answer calls from Seoul on the newly reopened communication line between the two countries. There has not been a minister-level meeting between the two governments since 2007.
Bonus: Fake European village is setting for Chinese wedding photographs. Thames Town, a mock English village with Tudor buildings and churches outside Shanghai, serves as the backdrop for hundreds of Chinese weddings. See the pictures here.