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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Fatal Misperception: How Unsafe Is Chinese Food?

by Yanzhong Huang
A farmer sprays pesticide in a wheat field in Zaozhuang, Shandong province on May 14, 2013. A farmer sprays pesticide in a wheat field in Zaozhuang, Shandong province on May 14, 2013. (China Daily/Courtesy Reuters)

Being an incorrigible tea drinker and a big fan of Chinese herbal products, I was disheartened by two reports released by Greenpeace. One study from 2012 suggested that twelve of the eighteen tea products the organization bought at random contained at least one pesticide banned for use on tea; the other, just released, found that thirty-two of the thirty-six samples of herbal products imported from China had residues of three or more pesticides considered highly hazardous by the World Health Organization. Read more »

Haze Crisis in Southeast Asia (and China)

by Yanzhong Huang
An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. An aerial view of burning lands in Palalawan district in Riau province June 21, 2013. Indonesia deployed military planes to fight raging forest fires on Friday that blanketed neighbouring Singapore in record levels of hazardous smog for a third straight day in one of Southeast Asia's worst air-pollution crises. (Fikih Nauli//Courtesy Reuters)

Having just arrived in Jakarta for a joint CSIS-CFR workshop on emerging Indonesia and rising regionalism, I was greeted by hot and humid weather conditions and horrible traffic. However, this is nothing compared to the severe haze that has blanketed Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, Malaysia, and Singapore, sending air pollution there to record high levels. Read more »

Responding to Disease Outbreaks: Is China’s Move Toward Greater Transparency Irreversible?

by Yanzhong Huang
Passengers walk past temperature detectors. Passengers walk past temperature detectors. (Stringer Taiwan/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday, I testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) at the  “Food and Drug Safety, Public Health, and the Environment in China” hearing. My testimony focused on China’s response to public health emergencies. As the H7N9 virus appears to be burning itself out, the consensus among public health scholars and practitioners is that China has been much more transparent and open in handing this outbreak than it was in 2003 during the SARS epidemic. In fact, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan thanked China for their speed in sharing relevant information. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of May 3, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A traditional Chinese tourist junk sails past Rubber Duck by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour on May 2, 2013. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters) A traditional Chinese tourist junk sails past Rubber Duck by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour on May 2, 2013. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

1. Shanghai diners fed rat, mink, and fox instead of lamb. Despite many jokes that restaurants in China replace expensive cuts of meat with cat and dog, it turns out that fox, mink, rat, and other small creatures are the counterfeiters’ animals of choice. A recent raid in Shanghai alone netted ten tons of counterfeit meats and sixty-three suspects, who are accused of earning about $1.6 million in illicit sales of fake mutton. The raid was part of a crackdown by the Ministry of Public Security that started in January, and the police have since arrested 904 suspects and raided 1,721 butcheries and workshops across the country. “In fake lamb, it is easy to pull apart the fat from the red meat. In real lamb, the fat is difficult to separate,” explained a police tweet on Weibo that was forwarded more than 10,000 times. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of April 12, 2013

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Japan's Interchange Association Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi (L) shakes hand with Taiwan's Association of East Asian Relations Chairman Liao Liao-yi during the fishery agreement signing ceremony in Taipei on April 10, 2013. Japan's Interchange Association Chairman Mitsuo Ohashi (L) shakes hand with Taiwan's Association of East Asian Relations Chairman Liao Liao-yi during the fishery agreement signing ceremony in Taipei on April 10, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Sharone Tobias and Will Piekos look at the top five stories in Asia this week.

  1. China’s economy seems a little shakier. A surge in bad-credit loans within the country has China trying to clean up liquidity without slowing growth. China’s plethora of bad loans and unsustainable levels of debt has led Fitch to downgrade China’s yuan-dominated debt from AA- to A+. It is the first time since 1999 that China’s sovereign credit rating was cut. Part of the reasoning for the downgrade was low average incomes, poor standards of governance, and a rapid expansion of credit. Read more »

Domestic Health Challenges and Global Health Governance: The Cases of China and India

by Yanzhong Huang
China's President Hu Jintao shakes hands with Indian's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. China's President Hu Jintao shakes hands with Indian's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters).

It’s been a busy week for global health. With the Indian Supreme Court’s landmark decision to dismiss Novartis AG’s attempt to patent its cancer drug Glivec, the doors for low-cost generic drugs will remain open. At the same time in China, as it’s been covered by me and my colleague Laurie Garrett,  the rise  of  a deadly new bird flu strain has already infected nine people, three of whom have died, in Southeast China. Both developments have tremendous implications for global governance for health. Read more »

The Rise of a Deadly New Strain of Bird Flu: Has China Handled This Properly So Far?

by Yanzhong Huang
Health workers pack dead chicken at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong December 21, 2011. Health workers pack dead chicken at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong December 21, 2011 (Siu Chiu/Courtesy Reuters).

China has long been perceived as the epicenter of major infectious disease outbreaks. The 2003 SARS crisis was the most recent and notable example. However, over the past months, China has been caught up in a series of public health-related crises, including air pollution in Beijing and dead pigs in Shanghai. So when reports came out over the weekend that a new lethal strain of bird flu, H7N9, was identified in China, it should not be a surprise to anyone. Read more »

Dead Pigs in Shanghai: Failing Food Safety Regulations

by Yanzhong Huang
A villager cuts meat from a dead pig in the Zhulin village of Jiaxing March 12, 2013. A villager cuts meat from a dead pig in the Zhulin village of Jiaxing March 12, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Last week, thousands of dead pigs were discovered floating in the Huangpu River, which supplies drinking water to Shanghai’s 23 million residents. As of Tuesday evening, sanitation workers have retrieved nearly 6,000 carcasses from the river. The municipal authorities insist that the city’s water supply has not been contaminated, but they did admit that the dead pigs have tested positive for the PCV virus (which causes a sometimes fatal pig disease) as well as other pathogens, including foot and mouth disease (FMD), swine fever, hog cholera, and blue-ear pig disease. Initial investigations have also identified Jiaxing, a city in the neighboring Zhejiang province, as the origin of the dead pigs. Read more »

Poison Air, Dead Pigs, and Cancer Rice: The Reform China Really Needs

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai on March 10, 2013. Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai on March 10, 2013. (Stringer China/Courtesy Reuters)

The bad news doesn’t stop coming. First, Beijing residents learned that breathing their air on a daily basis was akin to living in a smoking lounge. Then Guangdong residents learned that Hunan rice sold in their province in 2009 was contaminated with cadmium, which is carcinogenic and can cause severe pain in joints and the spine. And just this past weekend, Shanghai residents watched more than three thousand diseased pigs float down part of the city’s Huangpu River. Read more »

Choking to Death: Health Consequences of Air Pollution in China

by Yanzhong Huang
Chinese commuters make their way in heavy smog in Beijing Chinese commuters make their way in heavy smog in Beijing (Reinhard Krause/Courtesy Reuters).

In the past few months, I wrote about the food the Chinese eat, and, more recently, Liz Economy wrote about the water the Chinese drink. But the air that the Chinese breathe is now a major concern. As the nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress (NPC) arrive in Beijing to attend the yearly event to formally endorse nominees for key government leadership posts and important national policies, it would be hard for them to ignore the poor air quality in the country’s capital. Last Thursday morning, readings near Tiananmen Square measured the concentration of PM2.5—fine particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and are considered dangerous because they tend to penetrate the gas exchange regions of the lungs—at 469 micrograms per cubic meter, which corresponds to a U.S. EPA Air Quality Index reading of 479 (the scale stops at 500). Anything above 301 is considered “hazardous” in that it can cause “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly,” and there is a “serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.” The PM2.5 levels in other famously polluted cities pale in comparison to those in Beijing; for instance, the highest PM2.5 level in a 24-period recorded in Los Angeles was 43 micrograms per cubic meter. Read more »