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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 30, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
May 30, 2014

Trucks packed with criminals and suspects are seen during a mass sentencing rally at a stadium in Yili, Xinjiang on May 27, 2014 (Courtesy Reuters).


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

1. China convicts fifty-five people in Xinjiang mass sentencing. Fifty-five people were sentenced for terrorism, separatism, international homicide, and murder at a stadium of 7,000 onlookers in Yili, Xinjiang. Standing in backs of vehicles surrounded by armed guards, the defendants all appeared to be from the region’s Muslim Uighur community. The rare mass trial, in which three defendants were sentenced to death, is part of Beijing’s hardline response to a recent string of deadly attacks across the country. Human rights advocates criticized the mass sentencing for its failure to address underlying public security problems. Meanwhile, authorities in Xinjiang are hoping to overcome fears of terrorist attacks by offering cash bonuses to tourists to the region from elsewhere in China.

2. North Korea agrees to reopen investigation into abductions of Japanese nationals. On Thursday, the two countries said Pyongyang would open a new investigation into claims that over a dozen Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korean agents during the Cold War. According to the Korea Central News Agency, the North Korean state media, Japan has simultaneously agreed to lift restrictions on visits of North Koreans to Japan as well as “lift the embargo on North-Korea flagged ships with a humanitarian mission into Japanese ports.” In 2002, North Korea returned five such abductees after admitting it was responsible for their kidnapping. This issue has impeded North Korea-Japan relations, but some analysts say it may indicate change in the direction of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

3. United States weighing plan to deploy missile defense system in South Korea. The United States is scouting locations in South Korea for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery designed to intercept short, medium, and intermediate missiles from North Korea. Admiral James A. Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “we’re not betting on Dennis Rodman as our deterrent against a further North Korean ICBM threat.” The United States has already deployed one Thaad system against North Korea in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. Seoul is hesitant to share a Thaad system with Japan, as the United States is planning, preferring to build its own instead. Beijing was less than thrilled with the suggestion; a spokesperson from the Ministry of Defense said, “we will by no means allow tensions at the doorstep of China; we will not allow any chaos.”

4. Maritime dispute between Vietnam and China grows violent. Beijing and Hanoi traded accusations over who was at fault for the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of China’s controversial oil rig. The Vietnamese government claims that the wooden vessel was rammed by a Chinese fishing ship, while China asserts that the boat “capsized after harassing and colliding with a Chinese fishing boat.” Meanwhile, Vietnam has claimed that Chinese vessels attacked four of its ships and injured three law enforcement officers. The standoff between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels will likely continue until the massive Chinese oil rig has to move with the arrival of the typhoon season on August 18.

5. Abe offers Japan’s support for ASEAN on maritime disputes. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told defense ministers from the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that “Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies.” Although Abe did not directly mention China, he criticized any attempts to change the status quo through “force or coercion,” a reference to the close call earlier this week between Japanese and Chinese fighter jets near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as well as Vietnam’s clash with China at sea. Abe went on to say that “What the world eagerly awaits is for our seas and our skies to be places governed by rules, laws, and established dispute resolution procedures.”

Bonus: Religious groups in Malaysia call for boycott of Cadbury. Two batches of Cadbury chocolates were withdrawn from the market after Malaysia’s health ministry detected traces of pig DNA in the products. The discovery has provoked outrage in the Muslim community, especially since the chocolates were certified as halal and pork-free. Reactions have included intentions to sue confectionary giant Cadbury, declarations of jihad on the company, and demands for blood transfusions. A range of theories are circulating on how the pig DNA got into the chocolate in the first place.

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