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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 23, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
August 23, 2013

Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai stands trial inside the court in Jinan, Shandong province, on August 22, 2013. (Jinan Intermediate People's Court/Courtesy Reuters) Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai stands trial inside the court in Jinan, Shandong province, on August 22, 2013. (Jinan Intermediate People's Court/Courtesy Reuters)


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

1. Bo Xilai defiant in trial. Standing trial on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, former Communist Party official Bo Xilai was surprisingly defiant during his two days in court. The trial, which began on Thursday, was expected to be simply another piece of scripted Chinese political theater—albeit one with much more press and its own official microblog—but Bo put on a spirited defense, refuting testimony and casting doubt on his wife’s mental state. Some analysts have postulated that Bo might have agreed to a predetermined prison sentence in exchange for the opportunity to express himself at the trial.

2. U.N. criticizes Australia over asylum policy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee called Australia’s indefinite detention of refugees “cruel” and “inhuman” after reviewing complaints of forty-six recognized refugees. The committee called on Australia to release the refugees, many of whom have been held for more than two years, and offer compensation. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced last month that refugees arriving to Australia by boat will be sent to refugee processing centers in Papua New Guinea and will be considered for asylum there; none who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa will be granted asylum. The majority of the detained refugees are Sri Lankan Tamils; there are also Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and a Kuwaiti.

3. High levels of radiation detected near Fukushima water tanks. Tokyo Electric Power Company detected high levels of radiation coming from two water tanks containing contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that suffered three core reactor meltdowns in 2011 after an earthquake and a tsunami. Approximately 300 tanks are currently being used to store contaminated water, and about 300 tonnes of highly contaminated water leaked from one such tank this week. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority declared the power company and inspectors “careless” for allowing the water tanks to operate in such poor conditions.

4. China attacks Western values. The New York Times published a report this week on China’s Document Number Nine, a secretive directive issued by the leadership of the Communist Party warning against the dangers of Western ideas. The document warns against seven perils, including “Western constitutional democracy,” “universal values” of human rights, media independence and civic participation, and pro-market “neo-liberalism.” Economic reform, aimed boosting stagnant growth, has been at the top of Beijing’s agenda for some time; political reforms, argue some liberals, might logically follow. If Document Number Nine is any indication, it seems President Xi Jinping has other ideas.

5. South Korea and U.S. negotiate troop presence. South Korea and the United States remained polarized after a third attempt to negotiate sharing the cost of U.S. troop presence in the country. The negotiations are an attempt to renew the five-year Special Measure Agreement  which will expire in 2013. Washington wants Seoul to contribute $89.6 million more than it is willing to pay.

Bonus: Inflation concerns plague underworld, too. Trillions of dollars will be burned in the next few weeks for this year’s Hungry Ghost festival, when Chinese burn “ghost money” and other paper luxuries for their ancestors in the afterlife. “What we have right now is hyperinflation,” said one University of Hong Kong economist. “It’s like operating in Zimbabwe.” Closely mirroring the real world, those in the afterlife need money to buy houses and cars, and even pay off corrupt officials.

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