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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of November 22, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
November 22, 2013

Paramilitary policemen walk past Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region on November 17, 2013 (Rooney Chen). Paramilitary policemen walk past Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, on November 17, 2013. (Rooney Chen/Courtesy Reuters)

Will Piekos and Darcie Draudt look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Bloomberg dogged by self-censorship questions. Bloomberg News reporter Michael Forsythe, who worked on an unpublished article about a Chinese tycoon and his ties to CCP leaders, left the company this past week. The move came after it was reported that the unpublished article was rejected by top editors, led by editor in chief Matthew Winkler, because of fears that Bloomberg would be banished from China. Mr. Winkler has denied these claims, instead arguing that the article was not ready for publication. Bloomberg has also been criticized for self-censoring some articles in past weeks, reportedly inserting a code that prevents certain articles from appearing on Bloomberg terminals on the mainland. In response to an article on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has already taken punitive measures against Bloomberg, including blocking its website, blocking residency visas for new journalists, and restricting Bloomberg terminals at state-owned enterprises.

2. Violence in Xinjiang leaves eleven dead. Assailants with axes attacked a police station in the town of Selibuya last Saturday. Nine of the attackers were killed, along with two people identified as assisting the police. Two police officers were injured. The attack follows on the heels of an incident in Tiananmen Square in late October; the government says an SUV driven by assailants in Xinjiang resulted in the deaths of five people, including the three in the vehicle and two tourists on the sidewalk. Selibuya was also the site of ethnic violence in April, when twenty-one people were killed in clashes between residents and police.

3. Eighty-five-year-old American detained in North Korea. North Korea confirmed on November 22 that it has detained a U.S. citizen, according to Swedish officials who oversee consular issues in Pyongyang for the United States. Merril E. Newman has been detained since October 26 after being escorted off the plane an Air Koryo plane in Pyongyang. His detention follows a vacation to North Korea organized through a Beijing-based tour company. Newman’s detention is unusual in that he has no known record of human rights activism or religious evangelism, unlike other U.S. detainees including Kenneth Bae. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has previously worked on North Korean issues, has been in touch with contacts in North Korea, his office said.

4. Indonesia “downgrades” relations with Australia amid leaked intelligence reports. The surveillance was discovered via documents from 2009, leaked by Edward Snowden, that show plans to monitor the calls of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott acknowledges Indonesia’s concern, but refuses to apologize for “reasonable surveillance.” Indonesia continues to review all bilateral cooperation; President Yudhoyono has recalled its ambassador to Australia and suspended bilateral cooperation on the issue of people-smuggling.

5. Locke to leave Beijing. The U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, has announced that he will step down from his post early next year for personal reasons, leaving the post temporarily vacant. He has served as ambassador for two and a half years, spending much of his time promoting American businesses and exports. The most notable event of his tenure was the escape of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng from house arrest and eventually into the United States. The former commerce secretary will rejoin his family in Seattle.

Bonus: Chinese woman earns her living as Mao Zedong impersonator. Fifty-seven-year-old Chen Yan, a former housewife from Sichuan, has leveraged her uncanny resemblance to the Chinese communist revolutionary into a day job, earning more than 10,000 yuan (over $1600) per forty-minute silent public appearance. Standing at just over five feet tall, she stands on ten-inch platform shoes during performances in which she waves to crowds and stares pensively while smoking a cigarette like Chairman Mao was prone to do. Her impersonations are not all good news, though, as Chen’s husband is “disgusted” by his wife’s role as the only female Mao impersonator.

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