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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 18, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
April 18, 2014

A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers on the South Korean ferry, Sewol on April 18, 2014. The ferry had been en route to Jeju, a holiday island off South Korea’s southern coast, when it sent a distress signal on April16 (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters). A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers on the South Korean ferry, Sewol on April 18, 2014. The ferry had been en route to Jeju, a holiday island off South Korea’s southern coast, when it sent a distress signal on April16 (Issei Kato/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. South Korean passenger ferry capsizes. A South Korean ferry, the Sewol, capsized on Wednesday, April 16. As of Friday, twenty-five deaths have been reported, with 271 passengers still missing. The vessel was en route from Incheon, on the northwestern coast of the country, to Jeju Island, a resort island off the southwestern coast. A government investigation team is looking into alleged negligence by the captain and some members of the crew, who reportedly instructed passengers to remain seated and abandoned the ship in the state of emergencyThe last sinking in South Korea of this magnitude occurred in 1993, when a ship sank off the west coast and resulted in the death of 292 people.

2. Phase five of the Indian general election ends. Almost 200 million voters (nearly the size of the U.S. electorate) were eligible to cast their vote during the largest phase of the Indian election. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–projected to lead the next government–is already focusing on the composition of its ruling coalition. Though the party’s president expects the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance to secure 300 seats, the BJP must balance the demands of disparate political parties such as the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The governing Congress Party, in a desperate effort to salvage votes, labeled the BJP a threat to democracy and its prime minister candidate Narendra Modi “a habitual liar.

3. Thousands of workers in China protest over unpaid benefits. Thousands of workers have gone on strike in Dongguan, Guangdong province, protesting for increased pay, to receive unpaid social welfare contributions, and for improved social benefit plans. Though it is unclear exactly how many of the factories’ 40,000 employees have stopped working (New York–based China Labor Watch estimated strikers at 30,000), as many as 3,000 have taken to the streets to protest. The striking workers are employees of Taiwanese-owned Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings, which supplies and manufactures shoes for many top brands, including Nike and Adidas. Chinese workers are becoming more knowledgeable about their rights, which could decrease the cost advantage of China’s manufacturing sector.

4. Japan, South Korea meet to discuss “comfort women” issue. Officials from the two countries met in Seoul on April 16 to address a long-standing thorn in their bilateral relations: Japan’s use of Korean women as sex slaves during World War II, known as “comfort women.” Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, met with Lee Sang-deok, director-general of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau in South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. The meeting marked a modest step forward in improving relations, and follows the first meeting last month by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Park Geun-hye at a trilateral summit with U.S. president Barack Obama at The Hague. It also comes a week before Obama’s Asia trip, where he will visit both countries. Ihara told reporters the meeting “allowed for a deeper understanding of each other’s position,” but both sides acknowledged a great deal of work remains and pledged to continue director-general level talks in Tokyo next month.

5. Measles outbreak kills more than one hundred in Vietnam. Vietnam is facing its worst ever measles outbreak, which has killed 108 people since December; by comparison, the last major outbreak in 2009-2010 killed two. Approximately 7,000 cases have been reported so far. Roughly 122,000 people die of measles annually, most of them children under the age of five, despite the availability of an effective vaccine. Vietnam’s Ministry of Health aims to vaccinate up to 95 percent of children under three years old by the end of the month.

Bonus: Singapore inadvertently airs worst travel ad in history. Singapore’s Tourism Board aired an ad for the Philippines that has been dubbed “the most unintentionally terrible travel ad ever.” The video features poorly timed dubbing, elevator music, and a cheesy surprise ending. The Tourism Board eventually pulled the video.

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