Darcie Draudt, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia this week.
1. North Korea announces execution of top official. The Korean Central News Agency announced yesterday the execution of Jang Song-taek, a top North Korean official and uncle of leader Kim Jong-un. The announcement follows Jang’s highly publicized arrest, which was unprecedented in North Korea; at an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party, Jang was charged with “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts” against the “unity and cohesion of the party.” The execution and associated purge may indicate Kim Jong-un has consolidated power among upper party cadres. Some analysts believe the removal of Jang will have deleterious effects on Sino-North Korean relations, as Jang was considered to have been a proponent of economic reforms and sought business with China.
2. India’s Supreme Court reverses a lower court ruling, recriminalizes homosexual acts. India’s Supreme Court reversed a 2009 ruling of the Delhi high court that decriminalized gay sex, saying that only parliament should be able to change the law. The court upheld the validity of a British colonial-era law that sentenced anyone acting upon “carnal sex against the order of nature” to life in jail. Though prosecutions under the old law, Section 377 of the Indian penal code, were very rare, the law was often used by police to harass gays and lesbians. Some religious groups welcomed the court’s decision, but many politicians and Indian newspapers condemned the ruling.
3. Trial of a former prime minister further raises tensions in Thailand. Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was charged on Thursday with premeditated murder connected to a military crackdown on protesters in 2010. The charges against Abhisit, who is now the head of the Democrat Party, relate to a crackdown on “red shirt” supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra in the spring of 2010. Thaksin, himself a former prime minister brought down in a 2006 coup, is the brother of the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. The Democrat Party announced this week that it was resigning its seats in parliament and joining protests in Bangkok against the government. Abhisit was granted bail and will return to court in March 2014.
4. Bangladesh executes opposition leader, protests erupt. At least five people have died in protests following the execution of sixty-five-year-old opposition leader Abdul Qader Mollah, the former leader of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party. He was hanged on Thursday after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal for a review of his death sentence. Abdul Qader Mollah was the first of five Islamist leaders to be executed; they have all been sentenced to death by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal for crimes committed during the country’s war of independence in 1971. Jamaat protestors proceeded to torch businesses and cars, blockade roads, and attack ruling party supporters. Though many secular activists support the trials, the opposition claims that the tribunal exists to eliminate its leaders and weaken Jamaat before January 5 elections.
5. Abe seeks closer ties with ASEAN at Tokyo summit. In his latest effort to court Southeast Asia, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will meet with top national leaders from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Tokyo from December 13 to 15; he will be trying to garner support from Southeast Asia in the face of China’s declaration of a new air defense identification zone that overlaps areas claimed by Japan and South Korea. China and Japan are both seeking sway in Southeast Asia, motivated by interest in trade and investment partners as well as territory and security concerns. Since taking office in late 2012, Prime Minister Abe has visited all ten ASEAN nations, making him the first Japanese prime minister to do so while in office.
Bonus: New research indicates Terracotta Warriors were inspired by Greek art. Newly translated ancient records suggest that the thousands of life-size statues buried in the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC, were the result of early contact between Greece and China. The study, done by Lukas Nickel, a reader with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, indicates that the First Emperor was impressed by twelve giant statues from the West, likely created and influenced by Alexander the Great’s campaigns. They were then duplicated in front of his palace and eventually inspired his Terracotta Army.