The Week in Asia

The Chen Guangcheng case, Cambodian landmines and some unusual teaching props in Indian schools. The Week in Asia rounds up the news you might have missed.

Best of the Research

Proximity to the largest producers of heroin and hashish – the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran) – has made India’s border vulnerable to drug trafficking, warns Pushpita Das of India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in an occasional paper.

“Given the vulnerability of the borders to drug trafficking, India has tried to tackle the problem through the strategy of drug supply and demand reduction, which involves enacting laws, co-operating with voluntary organizations, securing its borders and coasts by increasing surveillance, as well as seeking the active cooperation of its neighbors and the international community.”

Read the rest of paper here.

While we are largely focused on the November elections in the United States, Chinese politics are also in a state of flux, with an anticipated retirement of seven of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party at the end of this year, notes Chatham House in its U.S. election note “China Policy after 2012.”

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“Notwithstanding the broader perception, particularly in China, that America’s Asia policy (and in particular the recent ‘pivot’) is directly focused on China, in fact China policy will continue to be only an element of the broader Asia policy in the United States and be addressed in this wider context. While the ‘pivot’ to Asia will continue, efforts to ensure it is not perceived as directed against China will be maintained.”

Read the full paper here.


China Power

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled house arrest in a village in Shandong Province, was the big story this week. And perhaps subject to a little too much media speculation?

Chen sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Chinese government was quick to try to impose blocks on internet searches for Chen’s name. Chen supporters who helped him evade Chinese authorities were apparently faced with retribution and punishment.

The case came as U.S. Secretary of State Clinton was visiting for economic and political talks.  Not surprisingly, Chen’s status became the focus of talks with Chinese officials. Chen eventually left the embassy, saying he wasn’t seeking political asylum in the U.S. However, on hearing of alleged threats to his family back home, Chen made a surprise phone call into a Washington congressional hearing and appealed to the United States to allow him to leave with Clinton. Chen now looks likely to be allowed to study abroad.

The headlines may have been all Chen, all the time, but the U.S. announced this week that it would consider selling F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. The North Korean nuclear issue, meanwhile, still simmers on the backburner – South Korea’s Chief Nuclear Envoy Lim Sung-Nam was travelling to Beijing for a meeting with his Chinese counterparts as concern grows Pyongyang might test a nuclear device.

Indian Decade

Tragedy struck India this week as the country experienced one of its worst ever ferry disasters. An overcrowded ferry capsized near Assam state, killing more than 100 people. The disaster comes on the back of a Gallup poll that says that more than a third of Indians classify themselves as “suffering” due to poor quality of life, highlighting how years of roaring economic growth in the country have left huge numbers behind. Indeed, cotton farmers themselves feared they might also be left behind, before an about turn by the government on cotton export policy. India banned all exports of cotton last month to protect domestic supplies, but announced an embarrassing reversal under pressure from angry cotton farmers.

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Speaking of economics, the concept of guns and butter has been given a new twist in Indian schools as children in the state of Uttar Pradesh are taught the alphabet with bombs and knives featured in textbooks, drawing widespread complaints from parents.

In international news, India grappled with the island state of Mauritius this week, accusing it of being a tax haven for Indian investors and condemning its unwillingness to cooperate in closing tax loopholes.


As if the Chen case and the announcement of possible F-16 sales to Taiwan wouldn’t be enough to rile Beijing, Bloomberg reports two U.S. officials as saying that the U.S. intends to help bolster the Philippines’ defenses in light of disputes with China. “The U.S. is helping the Philippines draft a long-term military modernization plan that calls for the Pentagon to supply coastal patrol vessels and maritime radar as well as assisting the country in obtaining equipment from U.S. allies in the region,” according to U.S. officials.

That’s not the only help the U.S. military is offering Southeast Asia – the Navy hospital ship Mercy this week left San Diego for a four-month humanitarian mission to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. Still, it’s not all neighborliness in Southeast Asia. Thailand this week accused Cambodia of placing landmines along the Thai-Cambodian border, adding that a Thai soldier was badly injured by one of the devices. Cambodia this weekend denied the claims. And the Deccan Chronicle suggests the shadow of landmines extends well past Southeast Asia, saying Maoists have managed to make “major gains during the suspension of armed operations” following recent high-profile kidnappings, managing to lay out a vast network of landmines during the period.


New Zealand’s unemployment rate unexpectedly moved to 6.7 percent for the March quarter, up from 6.4 percent in the previous quarter. The country is currently embroiled in a debate over the sale of assets to foreign investors. An Iranian trade delegation is to visit India from Sunday, reciprocating a visit less than two months ago by an Indian delegation looking to exploit export opportunities created by U.S. trade sections. China and South Korea have begun negotiating a possible free trade deal. Because of concerns over sensitive areas such as agriculture, the negotiations are likely to be tricky. Japan has taken its last nuclear power reactor offline, leaving it without nuclear power for the first time in 42 years. Possible power shortages loom as the country enters summer.

The Asian Development Bank meanwhile thinks that Cambodia will grow 6.5 percent this year. In Jakarta, office rents are “skyrocketing”. The Thai central bank has revised its forecast growth for the nation’s economy from 5.7 percent to 6 percent, and announces that because of the improving economy performance, there will be no additional rate cuts. Australia’s Reserve Bank is heading in the opposite direction – lowering the growth forecast to 2.75 percent for the fiscal year ending June, lending weight to calls for rate cuts.