The Week in Asia

North Korea’s rocket launch, China’s economic growth slowing and criticism of India’s treatment of women feature in our weekly roundup of the news you might have missed this week in Asia.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has released its 2012 Global Forecast, entitled “Risk, Opportunity, and the Next Administration.” Part II looks at how China’s growing influence, as well as its relationship with Russia, could affect the geopolitical environment. Elsewhere, there’s analysis of Asian economies, nuclear risks and energy security, making this a rounded and useful read.

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With this week’s standoff between China and the Philippines, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Fellow Bonnie S. Glaser analyzes the potential for armed clashes in the South China Sea, sets out the implications, and presents some options for what can be done. For a start, Glaser suggests the United States and China cooperate on risk reduction measures, while advocating economic cooperation to help reduce tensions in the area.

“Political and military hotlines have been set up, though U.S. officials have low confidence that they would be utilized by their Chinese counterparts during a crisis,” Glaser writes. “An additional hotline to manage maritime emergencies should be established at an operational level, along with a signed political agreement committing both sides to answer the phone in a crisis. Joint naval exercises to enhance the ability of the two sides to cooperate in counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief operations could increase cooperation and help prevent a U.S.-China conflict.”

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Brookings Senior Fellow Sunil Dasgupta meanwhile offers an interesting perspective on the recent feud between Indian army Chief Gen. V K Singh and the Manmohan Singh government, arguing that it could actually boost democratic mechanisms within the country by increasing the transparency of government operations.

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China Power

Scandal’s the keyword for this week in China, starting with the ongoing confusion surrounding the recent high-profile sacking of former Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai. China’s internet monitoring system has gone into overdrive, with authorities deleting thousands of online “rumors” as part of the purge. Included in the crackdown has been Utopia, a leading pro-Bo Xilai website. But the whole affair has taken on a Hollywood worthy twist, with Bo Xilai’s wife being accused of plotting the murder of a British businessman, while The Telegraph says Bo’s son Bo Guagua was escorted from his Harvard University home by law enforcement officials. The fall of the flashy Bo senior offers an interesting contrast of sorts with the rising status of U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, who has been winning praise in China recently for his frugal habits.

In other news, a group of political dissidents, including leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, have issued an open letter to the Chinese government asking for the right to return to China. With lower than expected economic growth, the specter of inflation and the biggest political scandal in decades – China’s leaders have plenty to think about at home as they prepare for the leadership transition later this year. But foreign policy isn’t on hold while they grapple with all this – China and Japan agreed to cooperate over increased contributions to the International Monetary Fund, while Beijing underscored the growing distance with the Assad regime in Syria by calling on it to honor the peace deal (and ceasefire) agreed with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Indian Decade

Negotiations between the Indian government and Maoist rebels bore fruit as Italian tour guide Paolo Bosusco was released, despite previous threats of mutilation and execution. A teacher in North India wasn’t so lucky: Hindi teacher Rakesh Kumar was crushed to death by the car of two of his own students for not allowing them to cheat during examinations.

In New Delhi, a traffic law making wearing helmets compulsory for men but not for women has drawn criticism from women’s groups, who see it as yet another example of the inferior status of women in the country. Writing in Indian Decade, Sumit Ganguly worries about much the same thing as a 3-month-old baby dies after being beaten by her father for being a girl.

In more upbeat news, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India was described as “fruitful” and “satisfying,” with Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussing issues such as Kashmir and Hafiz Saeed, accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai bomb attacks. This show of diplomatic goodwill coincides with the opening of the largest ever Pakistani trade show in India, perhaps a sign that economic opportunity will boost the prospects for peace. Or perhaps not, says Ganguly.

Meanwhile, India filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over rising visa application fees in the United States, which it claims discriminates against Indian IT firms. (Compiled by Calvin Wong, Editorial Assistant).

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The (not particularly effective) rocket launch by North Korea this week has dominated the news, and the implications are being discussed around the region and beyond. The BBC noted Chinese media has been split on the issue, but have warned the U.S., South Korea and Japan not to overreact. The Yomiuri Shimbun suggests that Japan’s government may not reacted quickly enough, noting that the speed of the rocket failure took the government off guard and meant it was too slow to relay this information to the public.

Speaking of early warnings, Singapore has started operating four Gulfstream jets, equipped with a sophisticated mission suite that includes an active electronically scanned array radar to detect, identify and track aerial targets, AsiaOne reports. The government described the platforms as “critical for a small country like Singapore.” Next door Malaysia, meanwhile, is the first and longest stop this weekend in the Airbus Military A400M's three-nation Asia tour, marking the first time the A400 has been seen in Asia, according to Bernama.


While most China watchers are focused on the Bo Xilai earthquake, China’s first quarter economic growth was actually 8.1 percent, below forecasts and the lowest level in nearly three years. However, Chinese officials welcomed the rising weight of domestic consumption, suggesting a more balanced economy. The Asian Development Bank sees India growing 7 percent this fiscal year, rising to 7.5 percent the year after, but says that the country needs to move forward on reforms that encourage investment. The Japanese government and the Bank of Japan, meanwhile, agreed this week that the domestic economy continues to improve moderately, with signs of an increase in export performance. The assessment was buttressed by figures released Monday showing Japan returned to a current account surplus in February.

Officials in the Philippines are anticipating an upgrade in the country’s sovereign debt rating soon. External debt to GDP is only 27.5 percent. Sri Lanka achieved record post-independence growth of 8.3 percent in 2011; the Australian dollar has eased from recent highs on slower Chinese growth; the Wall Street Journal thinks sanctions on Burma should now be dropped; while sanctions on Iran are biting, or not.