Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Asia, 2013

The Philippines is famous for typhoons, but there had never been anything so deadly as Typhoon Haiyan, one of the largest and most destructive storms in history, that swept into Leyte in November leaving an enormous swath of death and destruction. The storm virtually demolished the sizable city of Tacloban and killed at least 6,000 people. It is the latest in a string of deadly natural disasters to hit Asia in the past decade. They included such the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 and precipitated one of the world’s worst nuclear power plant disasters, and the 2005 tsunami that devastated western Indonesia. Bad as it was, Haiyan did not come near the death toll of Cyclone Nargis that hit the Irrawaddy river delta in Myanmar in 2008, killing an estimated 150,000 people. Other notable events in Asia in 2013:

2. Tensions in East China Sea

3. Terror in North Korea

4. Abenomics

5. 969 Movement in Myanmar

6. Mobs return to Bangkok streets

7. China lands rover on Moon

8. Bo Xilai given life sentence

9. Tokyo wins 2020 Olympics

10. Snowden Flees to Hong Kong

The East China Sea was the location of almost daily confrontations between Japan and China over some uninhabited and essentially useless disputed islands. Chinese fisheries protection vessels entered Japanese-claimed waters around the Senkaku (Daioyu) islands almost daily. In November China announced an air defense identification zone that covered the Senkaku, while the new conservative Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe increased military spending. During his year in office, Abe visited some two dozen countries. But it is a sign of souring relations with neighbors that he did not meet any high-level Chinese or South Koreans.

One might say North Korea opened and closed the year with a bang. Early in 2013 Pyongyang set off its third nuclear bomb test, the first under new leader Kim Jong-un, who threatened rain ICBMs on enemies including the U.S. Then things settled down for several months until the shocking news in late November that Kim had executed his supposedly powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek and some of his associates. That  sent North Korea watchers off on frenzy of speculation as to what is really going on in that most secretive country.

Though they took a hit with the late-year passage of a controversial state secrets act, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval ratings stayed remarkable high during his first full year in office. At a time when previous prime ministers’ ratings had fallen into the teens and the principals were pondering resignation, Abe continued to maintain ratings in the 60s. The main reason was his loose-money economic policies that were dubbed “Abenomics”, which were showing some positive improvements to the country’s lengthy economic doldrums.


Myanmar won international applause for moves to free political prisoners and restore democracy in 2012, but its reputation was tarnished in 2013 by a rapidly expanding mass movement led by Buddhist extremists determined to purge the country of Muslims. The number 969 has special meaning for Buddhists, who make up the vast majority of people of Myanmar, and is increasingly seen on decals attached to entrances of shops and on motorbikes denoting that the bearer is a proper Buddhist. Things took an ominous turn in March with vicious attacks on Muslims and Muslim businesses in the central town of Meikhtila near Mandalay.

On a lighter note, the Chinese landed a rover with the cutesy name of Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, on the moon in December as part of the Chang’e-3 lunar probe. According to Chinese mythology, Chang-e took some magic pills and then was lofted to the moon and became a goddess. She took her pet rabbit Yutu along to keep her company. The Change-3 was the first Chinese attempt to make a soft landing on the moon and the first by anyone in more than 30 years. It demonstrated the seriousness and effectiveness of China’s space program, which has already put six people in orbit on his own space vehicles.

For two years after the deadly demonstrations of 2010, Bangkok was peaceful. That all came to an end late in the year as tens of thousands of demonstrators again took to the streets, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.  What sparked the mobs was an ill-considered amnesty bill, which cleared the lower house of parliament, controlled by Shinawatra’s party, but was killed in the senate. In an effort to defuse the situation Shinawatra dissolved parliament and called for a general election in early 2014.

The saga of Bo Xilai, the biggest political story out of China in decades, ended (presumably) in September with his being sentenced to life in prison for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. Bo was riding high as the popular governor of Chongqing and a member of the Politburo, when his aide sought asylum in the U.S. consulate, setting off cascading allegations and trials. His wife was convicted of the murder of a British businessman over a financial dealing.  

Tokyo surprised doubters by winning the right to host the 2020 Olympics, becoming the first Asian city to host the games twice. Tokyo was the first Asian city to host the games in 1964. Unlike its previous lackluster effort to win the 2016 Games, Tokyo and the national government went all out this year to win the nod. In his personal presentation, Abe downplayed the potential dangers of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster saying “the situation is under control.”

Ever since Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997, not much of what happens there has made much of an impact internationally. But the territory got its week in the limelight, when NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden fled there after turning over a host of secrets to the media. After hiding for about a week, the government, no doubt with quiet help from Beijing, managed to hustle him out of the territory making him Russia’s hot potato. During his brief stay, he attracted considerable local support, which was probably one reason why the two governments were happy to see him go.










Post a Comment

<< Home