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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of February 21, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
February 21, 2014

Michael Kirby, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea holds a copy of his report during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva February 17, 2014 Michael Kirby, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea holds a copy of his report during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva February 17, 2014. (Denis Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. UN releases report on North Korean human rights violations. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea, established in March 2013, released its findings on February 17, 2014. Led by former Australian high court justice Michael Kirby, the commission was tasked with investigating “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights…with a mind in view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations which may constitute crimes against humanity.” The thirty-six-page report (and accompanying 372 pages of detailed findings) says it wants the international community to take responsibility for protecting the people of North Korea and argues that the commission does not support UN Security Council sanctions against the North due to the dire circumstances of the people. On February 18, the UN high commissioner for human rights suggested that world powers refer North Korea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. While defectors have cast doubt the report will lead to prosecution for crimes against humanity, some analysts believe this will function a reference for future interaction with Pyongyang.

2. U.S. actions add friction to U.S.-China relations. Captain James Fannell, the head of U.S. naval intelligence in the Pacific, stated that China is preparing for a “short, sharp war” to take the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from Japan. Speaking at the West 2014 conference in San Diego, he added that for Beijing, “’protection of maritime rights’ is a Chinese euphemism for coerced seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors” and predicted that China will declare  an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea by the end of 2015. The Pentagon was quick to distance itself from the comments, though as of FAU’s posting, Beijing has not yet responded. Meanwhile, U.S. president Barack Obama is hosting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, in the White House on Friday. As always, the Chinese government denounced the visit as a “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs that will “seriously damage” U.S.-China relations.

3. Are nationalist remarks harming the U.S.-Japan relationship? On Tuesday, Seiichi Eto, a special adviser to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, posted a video on YouTube in which he criticized the Obama administration for expressing “disappointment” at Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, saying Washington “doesn’t make much of Japan.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quick to emphasize that the comments are not those of the Japanese government, and the video was quickly removed. Nevertheless, the remarks came on the heels of other inflammatory comments from Abe appointments on the board of Japan’s national broadcasting corporation, NHK.

4. Indonesia upset at Australian spying. According to a New York Times report, a top secret document obtained by Edward Snowden shows that an American law firm was monitored while representing the Indonesian government on trade issues. The report revealed that the Australian Signals Directorate notified the NSA that it was conducting surveillance of the talks, even offering to share information. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that both countries should be “looking out for each other, not turning against one another.” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott deflected criticism in a radio interview, urging both sides to focus instead upon Australia’s “strong intelligence cooperation with Indonesia.” Bilateral relations have been further strained this week after the Australian Defense Force released a review of six “inadvertent” incursions into Indonesian waters.

5. Airstrikes against Taliban resume after peace talks falter. Pakistan launched overnight airstrikes in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal region late Wednesday, killing as many as thirty and destroying a trove of weapons and ammunition. The strike came after Pakistan called off peace talks with the Taliban after a faction claimed it captured twenty-three paramilitary soldiers and executed them in Afghanistan. The faction, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, also claimed responsibility last week for a bomb in Karachi that killed twelve police officers. The Taliban has said that it does not accept the constitution of Pakistan and wants to replace it with Islamic law. The airstrikes could be a prelude to a larger offensive into Pakistan’s tribal regions.

Bonus: China loves House of Cards. Netflix’s House of Cards, which documents the political rise of Frank Underwood, is proving to be quite popular in China. According to Sohu, the Chinese version of Netflix and owner of the streaming rights, over 24.5 million viewers tuned in for the first season, and the show is especially popular with former government employees and Beijing residents. Wang Qishan, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption body, has praised the show and highlighted the role of Underwood in ensuring party discipline, a job not unlike his own. Some have guessed that the show is popular among Chinese leaders because of its focus on political intrigue and inter-party struggles, whereas others think it is because the show suggests a high level of corruption in Washington. Whatever the reason, this attention is likely to only increase as China plays a big role in the new season’s plot, though for the sake of Asia Unbound’s readers we’ll keep this post spoiler free.

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