Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.
1. Julia Gillard is ousted as Australia’s prime minister, replaced by Kevin Rudd. Australia’s first female prime minister was ousted by the Labor Party on Thursday over fears that the party would lose September’s election with her at the helm. She was replaced by Kevin Rudd, who previously served as prime minister until a 2010 party coup. Chief among the Labor Party’s concerns is Australia’s faltering economy and slowing mining boom. Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker, also urged China to finalize a free trade agreement with Australia. Chinese farmers are worried that their businesses could be hurt by the free trade agreement because of the size of Australia’s agricultural output.
2. Haze pollution in Southeast Asia reaches historic levels. In the past week, smoke and haze from forest fires used to clear plantation land in Indonesia have caused severe air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia. Pollution levels reportedly hit a 16-year high in Malaysia, and the pollutant standards index reached its highest reading in Singapore. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono has issued an apology for the haze, but as CFR’s Elizabeth Economy points out, a number of obstacles stand in the way of ending the annual problem of haze, including regional governance issues, weak forestry law enforcement, and local corruption in Indonesia.
3. China and South Korea hold summit in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met on Thursday, pledging closer diplomatic and economic ties and calling for a return to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The two sides issued a joint statement following the meeting, agreeing to work together to resume the stalled six-party talks and bring a halt to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which they labeled a “serious threat” to stability in East Asia. Whether or not the joint statement will lead to appreciable action is another story; it seems unlikely that North Korea will agree to rejoin the six-party talks without any concessions from the other countries.
4. Snowden allowed to leave Hong Kong, despite U.S. extradition request. Edward Snowden, the U.S. government contractor that leaked details of NSA surveillance programs, left Hong Kong last Sunday and is now reportedly in a Moscow airport. Prior to his departure, the United States filed a request for Snowden’s arrest and extradition; the Hong Kong government claimed that not enough information had been provided to issue a warrant. The New York Times reported that it was the Chinese government that decided to allow Snowden to depart. The episode, still far from over, has already had an impact on bilateral relations: Washington blamed Snowden’s departure on Beijing, China and Hong Kong are concerned about the extent of U.S. spy operations in their territory, and the United States is investigating the leak as a possible Chinese intelligence operation.
5. Unrest returns to Xinjiang. Clashes in China’s far western province of Xinjiang resulted in the deaths of thirty-five people, according to state media. Though the cause of the violence has not been publicized, a group of Uighurs with knives reportedly attacked a police station and a government building and set fire to police cars. Xinhua denounced the violence as a “violent terrorist attack” by Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking group who chafe at the increasing number of Han Chinese in the region.
Bonus: Mayhem breaks out in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Clashes broke out in the island’s legislature this week as a representative bit her colleague and several representatives had coffee thrown on their faces. One man received tetanus shots after being bitten. Jostling in the legislature between Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party representatives is not an uncommon occurrence.