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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of February 14, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
February 14, 2014

kerry_in_beijing U.S. secretary of state John Kerry meets with Chinese premier Li Keqiang at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing on February 14, 2014. (Evan Vucci/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Secretary Kerry visits South Korea, China, and Indonesia on Asia tour. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry’s trip marks his fifth to Asia during his first year in office. In Seoul, he met with South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to discuss the South’s relations with North Korea, including efforts to facilitate reunions between family members on the divided peninsula. Secretary Kerry arrived in Beijing on Friday, where he met with Chinese president Xi Jinping and other senior officials to address issues ranging from nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea to climate change to regional tensions in the East and South China Seas. His Asia trip will wrap up in Indonesia, where he will deliver a speech on climate change. Secretary Kerry’s trip coincides with this week’s White House announcement that U.S. president Barack Obama will travel to Asia in April.

2. China and Taiwan hold historic talks, but Chinese president Xi Jinping declines to meet with Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou. China and Taiwan held their first formal high-level talks since China’s civil war ended in 1949. As expected, the talks in Nanjing yielded no concrete agreements and were considered to be mainly a confidence-building exercise. The meeting between the two top cross-strait officials had no flags on display and officials’ nameplates had no titles or affiliations. However, after the talks, China rejected President Ma’s offer of a meeting between Ma and President Xi at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in October. The meeting could only take place if Ma participates as the president of the Republic of China, which Beijing does not recognize as a nation.

3. Bangladeshi factory owners charged in country’s worst factory fire turn themselves in. The owners of Tazreen Fashions, Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter, gave themselves up to a court in Dhaka on Sunday and have been jailed for homicide. They are charged with culpable homicide in the November 2012 factory fire that resulted in the deaths of 112 workers, many of whom were ordered to keep working as alarms rang. Investigators originally stated that there was not enough evidence to prosecute the couple, but the country’s High Court ordered a deeper investigation following a petition from activists and lawyers. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China, and its powerful garment industry is often above the law. 

4. New premier elected in Nepal. Nepal’s parliament elected Sushil Koirala, a longtime democracy activist, as the country’s new prime minister on Monday. His election was made possible after Nepal’s two primary parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, or CPN-UML), signed a seven-point accord, ending the post-civil war political paralysis that had plagued Nepal since 2006. After elections last November, Mr. Koirala’s party, the Nepali Congress, emerged with the most seats in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Mr. Koirala was sworn into office one day after winning this week’s election, but now faces the potential for more political gridlock; his party’s main coalition partner, CPN-UML, will not join the government because Mr. Koirala did not give it the home minister profile.

5. North Korea agrees to move forward with family reunions. North and South Korea are moving forward in the new year, as officials from the two nations met on Friday for a second round of high-level talks to secure the planned family reunions for separated Korean families, scheduled for February 20 to 25. Following the talks at the border village of Panmunjom, North Korea rescinded its earlier threat to cancel the reunions; last week Pyongyang had asserted that regularly scheduled U.S.-South Korean military drills—planned for February 27 through March 9—constitute “a reckless act of war” that make proceeding with the reunions impossible. Seoul plans to send a team to North Korea on Saturday to prepare for the reunions, said a government spokesperson. The last reunion of separated families occurred in 2010, and Friday’s talks were the highest level talks between the two Koreas since 2007. 

Bonus: India’s athletes can now compete for their country after snafu; China derides Western criticism of Olympics. The International Olympic Committee lifted a ban on India as a competing nation, the first time a ban has been lifted during an Olympic Games. India was suspended last year over the election of an official convicted of corruption to a top post; Indian athletes marched as “independent Olympic athletes” instead of under their own flag at the opening ceremony. In other Olympic news, China’s Global Times published an op-ed deriding “Western bigotry” for criticizing human rights abuses at the Sochi Olympics, saying, “The noises around the Sochi Games have once again shown the narrow mind of the West.”

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