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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 11, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
July 11, 2014

Villagers line up to vote in the country's presidential election at Bojong Koneng polling station in Bogor July 9, 2014. Indonesians began voting on Wednesday in a presidential election that has become a closely fought contest between the old guard who flourished under decades of autocratic rule and a new breed of politician that has emerged in the fledgling democracy. Only the third direct election for president in the world's fourth-most populous nation, the contest pits former special forces general Prabowo Subianto against Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who have been running neck-and-neck in opinion polls. REUTERS/Beawiharta (INDONESIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) Villagers line up to vote in the country's presidential election at Bojong Koneng polling station in Bogor on July 9, 2014. (Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters)

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

1. Indonesians await official results of presidential election. Joko Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, seems to have won Indonesia’s presidential election against Prabowo Subianto, a self-described military strongman. Though unofficial quick count tallies appear split on the winner of the election, the more respected polling firms point to a Jokowi victory; the official results will be released on July 22. The campaign was one of the dirtiest in Indonesia’s recent history: smear campaigns claimed that Jokowi was both Christian and ethnic Chinese (he is in fact Muslim and ethnic Javanese), and Prabowo was accused of human rights abuses during his time as commander of the Indonesia’s special forces. Indonesia is trying to move its economy towards manufacturing and away from commodity exports; in the next few years, the country will likely need to curtail its fuel subsidies and restructure its natural resource strategy.

2. China and the United States hold annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. During two days of high-level meetings, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry called upon Chinese vice premier Wang Yang, Chinese state councilor Yang Jiechi, and other officials to support the creation of a legally binding code of conduct to enforce rules of navigation and inhibit unilateral actions in the South and East China Seas. Beijing expressed its commitment to reducing currency intervention and increasing transparency of its foreign-exchange operations, a step that U.S. treasury secretary John Lew says would make the yuan’s value more market-determined. After inking a series of pacts on climate change, both sides announced their intention to reach an agreement this year on core issues of a bilateral investment treaty. Secretary Kerry said that he had a “frank exchange” with China on cybersecurity issues, as U.S. media published allegations that China hacked into computer systems at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as well as U.S. think tanks.The two sides are expected to continue talks when President Obama visits China in November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting.

3. Japanese defense minister visits the United States. Japanese minister of defense Itsunori Onodera is in the United States this week, touring an F-35 plant in Texas before heading to Washington, DC. There he will attend a number of high-level meetings to discuss recent events on the Korean Peninsula and the Abe administration’s recent proposal to reinterpret Article IX of its constitution. Onodera will meet with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to discuss the proposed reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution and the implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance. The Abe cabinet announced its proposal, which could potentially allow for a greater degree of military cooperation with the United States, last week; it elicited a mix of strong criticism from some of its neighbors (China in particular) and support from allies in the region.Onodera and Hagel will also discuss what the reinterpretation could mean for the challenges facing U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral cooperation as well as the most recent provocations from North Korea.

4. Chinese and South Korean presidents meet in Seoul. Chinese president Xi Jinping visited South Korean president Park Geun-hye in Seoul last week, reciprocating Park’s visiting to Beijing last year. This is the first time a new Chinese president has visited South Korea before North Korea, marking a possible shift in Beijing’s approach to the Korean peninsula; China has historically favored Pyongyang over Seoul. China’s increasing economic ties with South Korea appears to be a strong driver of this shift, and during the visit the two leaders agreed to sign a bilateral free trade agreement by the end of this year. The two leaders also spoke out against North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons program as well as Japan’s recent relaxing of sanctions on the DPRK and review of its collective self-defense policy. The meeting received lukewarm response domestically and comes at a time when South Korean public opinion of President Park is on the decline, accusing her of using empty rhetoric and lack of clear tactics.

5. Australia facing international scrutiny for rejecting refugees. After two hundred Sri Lankan asylum seekers were intercepted in Australian waters in June, the Australian government returned forty-one refugees to Sri Lanka where they could face “rigorous imprisonment.” The government assessed and rejected the claims for asylum while at sea, bringing Australia under even harsher international criticism for not processing the individuals ashore. The United Nations Refugee Agency and various rights organizations have expressed concern over the situation, but so far it has not been confirmed whether Australia is in violation of international law. More than one thousand Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been rejected and returned by the Australian government since 2012.

Bonus: Japan unveils first robotic newscaster. Skynet is coming to a local broadcaster near you. Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro at the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at the Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering Science revealed his latest project: a pair of android newscasters. Though the robots’ facial expressions are still somewhat stilted, on the plus side the androids can read the news fluently and aren’t nearly as intimidating as the Terminator.

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