Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Hong Kong editor attacked. Kevin Lau, former chief editor of Ming Pao Daily News, was slashed three times in his back and legs by an attacker and accomplice on a motorbike. The attack on Mr. Lau sparked protests and an offer of a one million Hong Kong dollar reward from Ming Pao for any information leading to the arrest of the attacker. Mr. Lau was the center of controversy last month when removed from his editorial role. Hong Kong journalist associations are concerned that Mr. Lau’s removal, alongside the firing of a radio talk show host, are encroachments upon press freedom. While threats and attacks against outspoken Hong Kong journalists are hardly new, the attack on Mr. Lau comes amid increasing fears of mainland China’s widening political and cultural influence over Hong Kong.
2. North Korea test-fires short-range missiles. On February 27, North Korea fired missiles with a range of less than 200 meters off the east coast of North Korea. North Korea has provided no information on the test’s purpose, but such tests are not unusual for North Korea, especially following joint U.S.-South Korea exercises. The U.S.-Republica of Korea Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills began February 24 and will continue until April 18. One South Korean analyst believes the missile tests are mainly to send a message about the U.S.-South Korea drills as well as being an angered over recent UN Commission of Inquiry report on North Korean human rights abuses. A U.S. State Department spokesperson has urged Pyongyang to “exercise restraint and take steps to improve its relations with its neighbors.” Observers do not believe these tests will trigger a rise in tensions.
3. Thai prime minister faces corruption charges related to rice subsidy; strife continues. Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing charges of negligence over an allegedly corrupt rice subsidy scheme; if convicted, she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics. Under the rice subsidies, instated by the prime minister when she came to power in 2011, the government pledged to buy rice from Thai farmers at 40 to 50 percent above market value. This has pushed Thai rice prices to uncompetitive levels and cost the government $4 billion per year; the government has also been unable to pay farmers back, causing mass protests. Pro-government supporters surrounded the office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, forcing the hearing to move elsewhere. At the same time, clashes have continued between pro- and anti-government protesters; at least twenty people have died since the protests began in November 2013.
4. Japan announces draft of Basic Energy Plan, includes push to restart reactors. On February 25, the Abe administration unveiled a draft of the Basic Energy Plan, the first national energy policy since the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. While the plan calls for reducing Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy, it does not specify what mix of nuclear/renewables/fossil fuels Japan should rely on for its future energy needs. The plan also urges Japan’s government to push to restart reactors that meet new safety standards. All fifty of Japan’s operable reactors are currently idle, and only two reactors have been restarted since March 2011, though they were shut down again in September 2013 for routine maintenance. Cabinet approval of the draft Basic Energy Plan is expected in March.
Bonus: Yorkies are the newest attraction at Pyongyang’s zoo. A pack of miniature Yorkshire terrier dogs are the newest addition to the Capital Zoo in North Korea. The country’s official media agency has already announced that the pups have been taught “several feats.” Lonely Planet published an damning account of the zoo last year, saying the animals “look pretty forlorn.”