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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of September 13, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
September 14, 2013

A man cycles past the water-cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant on a hazy day in Beijing on January 22, 2013. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters) A man cycles past the water-cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant on a hazy day in Beijing on January 22, 2013. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Chinese economy posts strong numbers. Chinese overseas shipments in August rose 7.2 percent from a year earlier, increasing more than originally estimated, while inflation stayed below the government target. The industrial sector also showed strong numbers in August, climbing 10.4 percent year-to-year and posting the highest growth rate since March 2012. The data, along with other positive reports, pushed stocks to a three-month high, and experts are generally optimistic about the direction of China’s economy.

2. North Korea might have restarted a nuclear reactor.  Commercial satellite images from August 31 show two plumes of white steam rising from a turbine building next to the reactor, according to a report from the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. North Korea stated its intention to restart the reactor in the spring when tensions between the two Koreas were high; prior to that, the reactor had been inactive for six years. The reactor, which experts say does not effectively produce electricity, is capable of producing thirteen pounds of weapons-grade plutonium per year, enough for one or two bombs.

3. Bomb in Guilin, China, kills two, injures scores. A migrant worker upset that his child was unable to attend a local school detonated a bomb outside the school on Monday, killing himself and a woman next to him. Reports estimate about forty-five people were injured, including many students on their way to class. Migrant workers without the proper “hukou” household registration are not entitled to the same privileges and social services as urban residents; the issue has been trumpeted by Premier Li Keqiang as one of China’s most important reforms.

4. China to limit coal production, cars in an effort to curb pollution. The Chinese government unveiled an ambitious plan [Chinese] yesterday to reduce key indicators of air pollution by 25 percent in Beijing and the surrounding provinces by 2017. In January, air pollution in Beijing reached forty times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization, and poor air quality is thought to have accounted for 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010. The new plan has been praised for its focus on regional coordination and binding air quality targets, but some experts say it does not do enough to reduce vehicle emissions.

5. Philippine army and separatist militants forge truce after five days of fighting. Around 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) swept into Zamboanga, a city of 800,000 in the southern island of Mindanao on Monday, taking 180 people hostage in an attempt to declare independence. A cease-fire was forged today between the two groups after at least eighteen were killed in skirmishes. The MNLF are an offshoot of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was founded in the 1960s with the goal of establishing an autonomous Muslim region in the southern party of the country; the MNLF wants to create an independent nation. The insurgency has claimed more than 120,000 lives since its beginning. The clashes are one of the biggest challenges President Benigno Aquino III faces, and he has stated that he wants to solve the conflict by the end of his administration in 2016.

Bonus: Tomb of China’s “female prime minister” has been discovered. Shangguan Wan’er, who lived from 664-710 CE, was a famous politician and poet who served empress Wu Zetian, China’s first female ruler. Her tomb, repeatedly ransacked, was found this week near an airport in Shaanxi province. She was killed in a palace coup, and her life inspired a TV series.

Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to post until Saturday, September 14. We apologize for the delay.

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