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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of January 3, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
January 3, 2014

cambodia-protest-police-clash A garment worker holds rocks as police officers stand with assault rifles in the background after clashes broke out during a protest in Phnom Penh on January 3, 2014. (Samrang Pring/Courtesy: Reuters)

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

1. Cambodian police fire on garment protesters, killing at least three. Police fired on garment workers and their supporters as they protested for higher wages on Friday. A spokesman for Phnom Penh’s police department said that three were killed and two wounded, while the United National special rapporteur to Cambodia claimed four were killed and dozens injured. Tensions began when police cracked down on a small demonstration outside a South Korean-owned factory on Thursday. Clothing accounts for $5 billion worth of exports per year in Cambodia, making it the country’s largest industrial sector. Labor unions have been fighting for a minimum wage of $160 per month; the government has offered to raise it to $100 per month. The strike comes amid protests by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration and challenging the results of a July election. The party said that it plans to hold another demonstration on Sunday.

2. Kim Jong-un’s New Year address outlines North Korea’s 2014 goals. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivered a New Year’s speech, his second in what is to be expected a revived annual tradition. Many North Korea observers look to it as a thermometer of Pyongyang’s domestic and international intentions for the coming year. Beginning last year, Kim revived the annual tradition of his grandfather, which his father did not continue. The speech did not announce major shifts in policy; the dual approach (byungjin) policy was upheld. Several media stories caught on to the mention of the recent execution of his uncle and former advisor Jang Song-taek, purportedly conciliatory language toward South Korea, and intentions to beef up military capabilities. The speech also outlined several specific plans for domestic economic development, including in agriculture, heavy and light industries, and culture and sports.

3. Chinese helicopter rescues fifty-two from stranded ship in Antarctic. A helicopter based on the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long retrieved fifty-two passengers from an icebound Russian research ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, on Thursday. The Xue Long, along with icebreakers from Australia and France, were unable to reach the ship, requiring an airlift. The Xue Long was stationed twelve miles away as the passengers, trapped since December 24, were ferried twelve at a time back to the ship. The operation was scheduled to take place earlier in the week, but harsh weather conditions prevented the rescue effort. The rescue effort was overseen by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and has been hailed widely as an example of successful international cooperation.

4. Supporters of Bangladesh’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) clash with police at polls. Two people died during protests and clashes between opposition BNP supporters and police. The protesters demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down and install a neutral government. The leader of the BNP party, Khaleda Zia, called for a march on the capital on January 5 in defiance of a police ban. Police surrounded the home of Zia, a former prime minister, and prevented her followers from rallying outside partyheadquarters in Dhaka. More than one hundred have died and 650 have been detained as a result of election protests over several weeks. The government has vowed to hold elections on Sunday despite the protests and a boycott by opposition candidates, and winners have already been declared without contest in more than half of the assembly seats because of the boycott.

5. China’s central auditing agency releases report on local government debt. The National Audit Office report [in Chinese] found that the total debt of local government in China has climbed to nearly $3 trillion, further raising concerns about the country’s debt levels. Debt and guarantees issued by local governments were 17.9 trillion yuan as of the end of June, up 67 percent since the end of 2010 when it totaled 10.7 trillion yuan. The June 2013 amount represents a 12.7 percent increase on local government debt from December 2012, according to the report. Almost 40 percent of the current amount will mature by the end of this year, spurring the National Development and Reform Commission to announce that local governments will be allowed to issue bonds as a way of rolling over their debt to avoid defaults.

Bonus: Eighteen-meter rubber duck bursts in Taiwanese port. The giant yellow duck, created as an art installation by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, deflated on January 1, just eleven days after arriving Keelung Port in northeastern Taiwan. Versions of the floating sculpture had previously been shown in Kaoshiung and Taoyoun County; the latter version also burst and had to be replaced by the Kaoshiung duck. The Keelung duck was scheduled to be in the port until February 28 and was expected to draw millions of visitors. Hofman says his ducks represent “peace and harmony” and has brought them to Hong Kong, Osaka, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Auckland, and Amsterdam. City officials have yet to discern the cause of the burst.

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