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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of February 7, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
February 7, 2014

Maulana Sami ul-Haq, one of the Taliban negotiators, and government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui (L) smile before a news conference in Islamabad on February 6, 2014. (Mian Khursheed/Courtesy Reuters) Maulana Sami ul-Haq, one of the Taliban negotiators, and government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui (L) smile before a news conference in Islamabad on February 6, 2014. (Mian Khursheed/Courtesy Reuters)

Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Pakistan begins official peace talks with the Taliban. Pakistani government officials and Taliban representatives began formal talks on Thursday. The government delegation has requested an immediate cease-fire and that the talks to be limited to areas where the insurgency is strongest. The Taliban negotiators initially agreed to work within the framework of Pakistan’s constitution. However, one of the Taliban’s negotiators pulled out on Friday because he wanted the agenda included an imposition of Islamic law. Both sides described the talks as “cordial and friendly,” though many experts remain skeptical that they will bear fruit. By request of the Pakistani government during the peace talks, the Obama administration sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan .

2. Thai elections show low confidence in ruling party; rice farmers join in protests against government. Only 47 percent of eligible voters showed up at polls in Thailand’s election on Sunday, compared to 75 percent in 2011, due to a boycott by the opposition Democrat Party and disruptive anti-government protests. Protesters shut down intersections across the country, and some gunmen even shot at would-be voters. A petition introduced by the opposition to nullify the election was rejected Friday on procedural grounds, though a related petition remains pending. In a new twist, many rice farmers have joined protests because they were not given the money they were promised in the government’s populist rice-purchase scheme, which promised farmers that the government would buy rice at above-market rates to boost rural incomes.

3. North Korea threatens to cancel family reunions over U.S.-South Korean military drills. The threat to cancel the family reunions, framed as a sincere effort by Seoul to warm North-South relations, comes only days after Pyongyang agreed to Seoul’s proposal to hold reunions in a resort in North Korea. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the North Korean National Defense Commission stated that the drills, which occur regularly and that Washington and Seoul contend are for defensive purposes, constitute a “reckless act of war.” “It does not make sense to carry out the reunion of families, who were separated due to the War, during a dangerous nuclear war practice,” said the North Korean spokesperson. South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to stick to its commitment. North Korea canceled scheduled reunions in September 2013. Family meetings have not occurred since 2010.

4. Indonesia reports slowest economic growth in four years. Indonesia’s economy expanded by only 5.78 percent in 2013, slowing for the third consecutive year. Finance Minister M. Chatib Basri and other government officials have said that sluggish growth is intentional; economic expansion is being sacrificed to decrease the $9.9 billion current account deficit and ensure sustainable long-term economic growth. With companies fearing to invest in Indonesia prior to a 2014 election, the country’s economy is expected to grapple with weaker growth in the coming years; the International Monetary Fund is projecting growth between 5 percent and 5.5 percent until 2015.

5. Philippines’ Aquino likens China’s claims in South China Sea to Hitler’s in Sudetenland. Speaking with the New York Times this week, President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines called on the world to do more to help Manila resist China’s assertive maritime claims in the South China Sea. He stated, “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it—remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.” Naturally, Beijing was not pleased that its leadership had been likened to that of Nazi Germany; Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated that “Such a comparison is ridiculously inconceivable and unreasonable. The Chinese side is shocked and dissatisfied.” A Xinhua report was less diplomatic, calling President Aquino “an amateurish politician who was ignorant both of history and reality.”

Bonus: Japan’s deaf composer is neither deaf nor a composer. Mamoru Samuragochi, nicknamed Japan’s “Beethoven,” was exposed by his ghostwriter, composer Takashi Niigaki, as being neither deaf nor the composer of his own music. Mr. Samuragochi admitted that someone else had written his most famous works, including the themes to video games such as Resident Evil and Onimusha and a sonatina for Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.

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