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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 19, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
July 19, 2013

A view from on board North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. Panama detained the North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba as it headed to the Panama Canal and said it was hiding weapons in brown sugar containers, sparking a standoff in which the ship's captain attempted to commit suicide. (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy Reuters) A view from on board North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon City on July 16, 2013. (Carlos Jasso/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. China’s economy slows in the second quarter. China’s economic growth slowed to 7.5 percent in the second quarter of 2013, the second straight quarter of declining growth. Chinese officials encouraged local governments to speed up spending to support economic growth, though they have asserted that China’s main economic indicators were within a “reasonable range.” The International Monetary Fund is less confident, stating that “since the global crisis, a mix of investment, credit, and fiscal stimulus has underpinned [Chinese economic] activity. This pattern of growth is not sustainable and is raising vulnerability.”

2. Panama charges North Korean crew with arms smuggling. A North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang was seized by Panamanian officials while en route to Cuba last week. Panamanian prosecutor Javier Caraballo charged thirty-three North Korean crew members with illegally carrying weapons, which were hidden under 200,000 bags of brown sugar. North Korean and Cuban officials claimed that the weapons were aging and were being returned to Cuba “under legitimate contract.” The crew resisted arrest, and the captain had a heart attack and attempted to slit his own throat.

3. South Korea blames the North for cyberattacks. The South Korean Science Ministry published an official report blaming North Korea for a wave of cyberattacks that paralyzed nearly seventy websites last month. The cyberattacks took place on June 25, the sixty-third anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The June attacks followed a series of disruptions that shut down tens of thousands of computers at South Korean news broadcasters and banks in March. North Korea has repeatedly denied responsibility and claims to also be a victim of hacking.

4. China cracks down on anti-corruption advocates. Police arrested human rights advocate Xu Zhiyong in Beijing on Tuesday on charges of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” the latest in a string of activists who have been arrested (seemingly) for calling on officials to publicly dispose their assets. Many experts claim these arrests as evidence of Beijing’s reluctance to allow citizens to participate in anti-corruption efforts. President Xi Jinping has made these efforts a calling card of his first year in office, though some China experts, including CFR’s Elizabeth Economy, are skeptical that the Chinese government and the Communist Party have the stomach to follow through on their pledge to address the corruption problem.

5. Mutual distrust between U.S. and China deepens, says Pew survey. Since 2011, China’s approval rating in the United States has dropped 14 percentage points, down to 37 percent, while negative attitudes toward the United States among Chinese rose to 53 percent. The Pew Global Survey asserts that “publics around the world believe the global balance of power is shifting” to China, though “the U.S. enjoys a stronger global image than China.”

Bonus: Japanese salon offers snail facials. A Tokyo beauty salon has begun offering facial treatments with snail slime, claiming the mucus treats dry skin . The salon, which has five snails in employment, is only able to take one customer per day.

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