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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 27, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
June 27, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama is welcomed to Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while in Tokyo on April 23, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama is welcomed to Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while in Tokyo on April 23, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Abe fires the “third arrow” of his growth strategy Abenomics. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced the “third arrow” of his economic reform policy this week. The third arrow, experts say, is important but difficult, and seeks to address issues of tax reform, population decline, and immigration, as well as trade and agricultural reform. This phase follows the first (a fiscal stimulus) and the second (massive quantitative easing to provide a monetary boost). “Abenomics” claims to address the large challenges threatening Japan’s economy, including one of the biggest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world and an ageing society.

2. South Korean soldier kills five, wounds seven comrades. A South Korean army sergeant in the 22nd Infantry Division in Goseong, Gangwon Province, went on a shooting spree last weekend at his post near the border of North Korea. Following an extensive manhunt, authorities captured the fugitive soldier on Monday after a prolonged stand-off that included a suicide attempt. It was revealed on Tuesday that the South Korean military used a decoy body to divert attention while the shooter was transported to the hospital. The soldier’s motivations are still unknown, but officers serving with him said he had difficulties adapting to military life. Every able male South Korean citizen must serve two years in the military. This is the third case of a South Korean soldier turning fire on his fellow soldiers, and all three incidents took place in the tense border areas between North and South Korea.

3. Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong agitate for change. More than 740,000 Hong Kongers went to the polls this week to vote in an unofficial referendum on how to choose the territory’s next leader. China claims the right to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive and says the candidates must, among other characteristics, “love China.” The referendum, run by the pro-democracy Occupy Central group, was called “illegal” by mainland China and a Chinese newspaper accused the United States of backing Hong Kong separatists. The online voting platform for the referendum was hit by a major cyberattack which interrupted the poll, as was a major newspaper supportive of Occupy Central; the perpetrators could not be immediately identified. Separately, Hong Kong lawyers marched in defense of judicial independence, responding to Beijing’s release last month of a white paper reaffirming China’s control over the special administrative region.

4. Operation Zarb-i-Azb continues. The Pakistani military carried out air strikes in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal region on Tuesday, killing at least forty-seven suspected militants and destroying twenty-three hideouts in the second week of the operation. Although the Pakistan’s army commander directed “that all terrorists along with their sanctuaries must be eliminated without any discrimination,” chances are many militant leaders have already moved to safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So far, almost 500,000 internally displaced persons have registered with the government;  the influx of internal refugees has introduced its own set of problems including the spread of polio from unvaccinated children coming from North Waziristan.

5. China sends minister-level official to Taiwan for the first time. Zhang Zhijun, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and top cross-strait negotiator, is the first Chinese ministerial-level official to visit Taiwan since the two sides split in 1949. He met with Wang Yu-chi, the chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. Zhang also spoke with Kaoshiung city mayor Chen Chu, a major player of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which is more suspicious of close ties with the mainland and has at times called for Taiwanese independence. Zhang spent most of his trip meeting with local businesses, students, farms, and an aboriginal village. A small group of fewer than one hundred protested the meeting and were kept far from Zhang.

Bonus: North Korea calls new Seth Rogen movie an act of war. A spokesmen for the North Korea foreign ministry threatened “merciless” retaliation if the U.S. government does not block the release of the movie “The Interview,” calling the film “the most undisguised terrorism.” The movie stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as a producer and talk-show host who land an interview with Kim Jong Un and later get pulled into a CIA assassination plot. This is not the first time North Korean dictators have been used as “comic fodder.”

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