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Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 17, 2014

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

Emergencies ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on July 17, 2014 (Maxim Zmeyev/Courtesy: Reuters). Emergencies ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on July 17, 2014 (Maxim Zmeyev/Courtesy: Reuters).

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

1. Malaysia Airlines plane shot down over eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 on board. Though the Ukrainian and Russian militaries, along with pro-Russian separatists, all possess weaponry capable of shooting down a plane flying at 33,000 feet, evidence is increasingly pointing to separatists as the perpetrators. The incident comes just five months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean, along with its 239 passengers and crew.

2. Controversial Chinese oil rig near Vietnam to be moved. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) announced that the billion-dollar oil rig that was deployed in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam two months ago has been relocated to an area closer to the Chinese province of Hainan. Chinese state media said that the rig was being moved “as planned” after discovering evidence of oil and gas. The establishment of the rig near the disputed Paracel Islands worsened already tense relations between China and Vietnam and  prompted clashes at sea between Chinese coast guard vessels and smaller Vietnamese boats. The announcement came one day after U.S. president Barack Obama called Chinese president Xi Jinping to discuss Sino-U.S. relations; though Washington previously expressed disagreement with the placement of the rig, it is not clear whether the cancellation was related to the phone call between the two leaders.

3. Japan set to restart nuclear power plant. On Wednesday, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) announced that, for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, a nuclear power plant has met the country’s newly revised strict safety standards. Kyushu Electric Power Company will restart two idled reactors at Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, and they could be operational as early as autumn. The NRA plans to accelerate safety screenings of another seventeen reactors at eleven more plants. Prior to the 3/11 disasters, Japan obtained nearly a third of its power supply from nuclear plants, and has struggled in recent years to offset the loss imposed by the new restrictions. However, an Asahi Shimbun poll conducted in March 2014 found that nearly 60 percent of respondents oppose restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants.

4. New Development Bank established at BRICS summit. Heads of state from the five members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) gathered in Fortaleza, Brazil, this week for their six annual summit. The New Development Bank (NDB) was established with $50 billion in capital to finance infrastructure and development projects. In addition, there will be a $100 billion contingency reserve pool to help member countries experiencing financial difficulties. The NDB is viewed as a potential rival to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which disproportionately favor the United States and Europe. For example, although the BRICS make up more than one-fifth of the global economy, together their vote share in the IMF is only 11 percent. The bank’s headquarters will be in Shanghai, and India will provide its first president.

5. Crackdown on media in China and Myanmar. China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television alerted Chinese journalists not to provide any information obtained in their work to foreign media groups or competing domestic media groups. Chinese journalists were told that their credentials would be revoked if they leaked information, and they could be put on trial for sharing state secrets. Elsewhere in Asia, five journalists convicted of violating Myanmar’s state secrets act for their piece on an alleged chemical weapons factory were sentenced to ten years in prison. In both China and Myanmar, this week’s developments are a clear step backward for press freedoms.

Bonus: Nepal’s former crown prince arrested in Thailand for drugs, again. Former Nepalese crown prince Paras Shah was taken into custody after officers found marijuana in his Bangkok hotel room. Known for his hard-partying lifestyle, this is the second time he has been arrested for possession of marijuana in Thailand in the last two years. He was released on bail three days after his arrest.

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