Darcie Draudt, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. White House declares China’s East China Sea air defense zone (ADIZ) “unacceptable.” The White House called China’s new air defense zone “unacceptable” on Thursday but stopped short of calling for China to rescind the declaration. Imposed on November 23, the ADIZ means that all aircraft must report flight plans to Chinese authorities and reply promptly to identification inquiries. The United States, Japan, and South Korea have all sent military aircraft through the zone without informing Beijing since it was first imposed. U.S. vice president Joe Biden said that he had “very direct” talks about U.S. concerns over the ADIZ while meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping this week. The ADIZ includes the contested Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China. (Japan and South Korea have similar zones, but only aircraft planning on entering sovereign airspace are required to declare themselves.) Three major U.S. airlines said that they were complying with Chinese government demands.
2. China cracks down on foreign press. Also during his visit, Vice President Biden criticized China’s recent crackdown on foreign journalists, saying, “We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists.” The Chinese government has not renewed visas for nearly two dozen correspondents from the New York Times and Bloomberg News after articles exposed the wealth of some of China’s top leaders. The journalists will be forced to leave China by the end of 2013 if the visas are not renewed. Last year, American correspondent for Al Jazeera English Melissa Chan was the first foreign journalist to be expelled from China in thirteen years, which reversed a previous promise by Beijing to open China to more foreign journalists as a condition for hosting the 2008 Olympics.
3. A tentative peace struck in Bangkok. The capital of Thailand, wracked by a week of protests against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, calmed on December 4 in preparation for the eighty-sixth birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej the next day. Anti-government protests peaked on December 2, and police have used concrete and barbed wire barriers and tear gas to quell the demonstrations—four have died and over one hundred have been injured in the violence. The opposition, led by former politician Suthep Thaugsuban, has rallied behind an attempt by Prime Minister Yingluck to pass an amnesty bill that would absolve her older brother and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, of the corruption and abuse of power charges that forced him into self-imposed exile. Despite the lull in protests and violence, Suthep has vowed to continue his efforts to bring down the democratically elected government.
4. Japan approves Abe’s economic stimulus package. In the latest effort to combat Japan’s twenty-year deflation trend, Japan’s cabinet approved a 18.6 trillion yen ($182 billion) economic package on December 5. Proponents contend that the package will override a drop in spending ahead of the tax hike. The package includes 5.5 trillion yen of spending measures ordered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October in anticipation of a sales-tax hike that is planned for April 2014; however, the timeline for the rollout is still dubious and some charge that some of the projects may not start until July or later. Additionally, some market participants charge that some of the items were previously scheduled, such as reconstruction from the 2011 earthquake, and do not constitute true economic policy to strategically combat the continued downturn in the Japanese economy.
5. Satellite imagery reveals scale of North Korean political prison camps. On December 5, Amnesty International released satellite imagery of two growing political prison camps in North Korea. Amnesty International commissioned the images from DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite imagery vendor. The images accompany a written report given to the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea, which is set to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014. According to defector testimony , imprisoned North Koreans are tortured, starved, raped, and killed at the camps, or kwalliso. Based on the imagery, Amnesty estimates that Kwalliso 15 in South Hamgyeong Province houses 50,000 people, and Kwalliso 16 in North Hamgyeong Province holds 20,000 people. Kwalliso 16 is 560 square kilometers—three times the size of Washington, DC. The North Korean government denies the existence of the prison camps.
Bonus: China in the Catskills. U.S. immigration officials are considering an application by a group of Chinese investors to build a 600-acre “China City in America” in upstate New York. The proposal, which includes family housing, a college, offices for every Chinese province, and possibly a casino, has been criticized as “a stalking horse for the Chinese communist government in Beijing.” The project calls for 20 percent of the capital to come from U.S. federal funding and would give green cards to foreign investors who provide at least $500,000.