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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 9, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
August 10, 2013

A child undergoes a medical check for possible kidney stones at a hospital in Shanghai on September 27, 2008 (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters) A child undergoes a medical check for possible kidney stones at a hospital in Shanghai on September 27, 2008 (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. China fines milk formula companies. The Chinese government has fined six milk formula companies a total of $110 million for anti-competitive behavior and price fixing, the largest fine the Chinese government has ever instituted for violations of antitrust laws. Five of the companies are foreign, hailing from France, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the United States, and one company is based in Hong Kong. The price of milk formula has risen 30 percent since 2008, when Chinese-made milk formula was linked to infant deaths and consumers rushed to buy foreign brands. Chinese state-run media has run multiple front-page articles about the case. Just days before, Fonterra, one of the companies fined by the government, recalled thirty-eight tons of contaminated whey protein used in baby formula, another scare in China’s food safety crisis.

2. China releases promising trade numbers. China’s July trade data revealed promising signs that China’s economy might be stabilizing after a six-month slowdown. Stronger-than-expected global demand for China’s exports—in particular from the United States and Europe, as well as Southeast Asia—also signaled improving global economic prospects, while increased imports in China suggested a strengthening domestic economy. The trade numbers improve China’s chances of achieving this year’s target for economic growth of 7.5 percent, already China’s lowest in decades.

3. Japan lodges protest with China over island dispute. Japan has summoned a China envoy to protest an unusually long visit by Chinese coast guard vessels to waters close to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Chinese ships have been encroaching upon territorial waters on a near-daily basis, but those visits usually last only a few hours; the latest visit lasted twenty-eight hours. The small, uninhabited islands have been a source of dispute for decades, and tensions reignited in September when the Japanese government nationalized the islands.

4. Thirty Muslim Rohingya escape Thai jail. Thirty Rohingya asylum seekers escaped jail in southern Thailand where they were being held, along with 1,700 others, for illegally crossing the border. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from Myanmar who have been the target of ethnically-charged attacks by Buddhists in the country.

5. Taiwan lifts economic sanctions against the Philippines. The Taiwanese government has ended a three month-long freeze on trade with the Philippines, in effect ever since an incident on May 9 that left one Taiwanese fisherman dead. The Philippine government apologized to the family of the fisherman killed and has said it will bring murder charges against the eight coast guard personnel who shot at the man.

In China, the “Walking Dead” get thirsty too. Han, a Chinese drink vendor, faked his death at the hands of China’s chengguan, an unarmed, semi-official enforcement force, hoping to gain compensation for the his death. Angry that the chengguan were forcing drink vendors to move their stands and were confiscating their merchandise, Han and his accomplices pretended he had been killed; their plan fell apart when Han, suffering under a sheet for two hours while he was “dead,” was caught drinking a bottle of water.

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