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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 2, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
August 2, 2013

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) speaks to the media as he inspects a bridge construction site in Phnom Penh on July 31, 2013. (Samrang Pring/Courtesy Reuters) Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) speaks to the media as he inspects a bridge construction site in Phnom Penh on July 31, 2013. (Samrang Pring/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Cambodian opposition makes historic gains in election. Cambodia held elections last Sunday, with the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) almost doubling the number of seats it holds in the national assembly. The CNRP said on Monday that they rejected the results of the election, hoping to gain a majority in the national assembly, and accused the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of large-scale cheating; a number of monitoring organizations reported voting irregularities. The leading Cambodian People’s Party won by its narrowest margin in its twenty-eight years in power, claiming to have received 55 percent of votes (in 2008, the party received 73 percent of the vote). Despite the political setback, the Prime Minister has so far been pragmatic and conciliatory, expressing a willingness to speak with the opposition and an acceptance of an independent electoral commission.

2. China’s maritime disputes continue to make headlines. Tensions between China and Japan remain high, as China’s recently consolidated coast guard sent four ships and a turboprop early-warning airplane to patrol in disputed areas of the East China Sea last weekend. The ships proceeded to confront Japanese patrol vessels and “strictly declared” China’s sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Meanwhile, Chinese president Xi Jinping stated that China wants to resolve its territorial disputes peacefully but would not compromise on issues of sovereignty or defense. Beijng also lodged a formal complaint with the United States after the U.S. Senate passed a resolution expressing concern over disputes in the South and East China Seas.

3. South Korea announces aid for the North. Seoul promised $7.4 million in aid to North Korea, part of the new administration’s policy to continue humanitarian aid regardless of political issues. South Korea also proposed “final” talks on the fate of the shuttered Kaesong joint industrial zone, which has been dormant for several months. South Korean officials insisted that the offer of aid and the proposal to restart negotiations on Kaesong are unrelated.

4. China orders audit of government debt. The Chinese government, worried that government borrowing might be out of control, ordered a nationwide audit of all government debt. The last audit was published in 2011 and showed the debt level to be 10.7 trillion yuan as of the end of 2010. Though the amount of sovereign debt stands at around 8.4 trillion yuan (or 16 percent of GDP) as of the end of 2012, the amount of local government debt is unknown; private sector estimates of total public debt in China range from 46 percent to 78 percent of GDP.

5. Vietnam bans social media news posts. The government of Vietnam has ordered that social media websites like Facebook and Twitter should only be used to “provide and exchange personal information,” rather than political opinion or information on current events. It is not clear how the law will be implemented or what the penalties for breaking the law will be. The statement was signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Wednesday. This year, Vietnam (along with Bahrain, Syria, China, and Iran) was branded an “enemy of the Internet” by Reporters Without Borders, an organization that protects press freedom.

Bonus: Taoist master or “vulgar magician”? Wang Lin, a spiritualist advisor who focused on Taoist qigong breathing techniques, was the target of a massive Chinese media offensive this week. He was the subject of two documentaries aired on state-run CCTV accusing him of selling bogus health techniques to the masses and celebrities. Wang fled to Hong Kong this week, and it is not clear whether he will face any charges.

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