Hello and welcome to another edition of news in Asia. This week is a mixed bag of stories, so let’s get started.
There was a massive bombing at a vegetable market in the Pakistani city of Quetta, leaving 84 dead, with the death toll expected to rise. The bombing is just the latest incident of sectarian violence against the minority Hazara Shia population. There was a twin bombing on January 10th that killed 90 people and fears of follow-up attacks have hindered rescue efforts. Responsibility for the bombing was claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an off-shoot of the Taliban and pro-Sunni sectarian group. As with everything else in the region, the attacks are at the very least, not prevented by Pakistani paramilitary forces.
After a NATO airstrike in a residential area resulted in 10 civilian deaths, mostly women and children, Afghani President Hamid Karzai issued a decree that would ban Afghan security forces from calling in foreign airstrikes in civilian areas. The use of drones and airstrikes by both the U. S. and NATO has been extremely controversial in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as abroad. It will be interesting to watch the developments in this region since President Obama announced during his State of the Union address that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops.
It seems that controversy over immigration and the role of foreigners in a society is universal. In a rare protest that reached about 3,000 in number, citizens of Singapore gathered in opposition to a new proposal to increase the population of the city-state. Many are concerned about how an influx of foreigners would drown out the middle-class and turn Singapore into a pit-stop for the rich and powerful. While there are concerns about rapid population decreases as the population ages and the birthrate drops, many are questioning the need to raise the number of inhabitants from 5 to 7 million.
In honor of my leaving South Korea in just over a week, here are a few stories dealing with the Korean peninsula:
Many of you may have already heard that North Korea performed a third nuclear test on Tuesday, prompting South Korea, the U.S., Japan and pretty much the rest of the world to tell the isolated nation to simmer down in the form of threats of new and stricter sanctions. However, most experts agree that China is instrumental in trying to reign in North Korea’s tendency toward thermonuclear warfare. China is responsible for providing most of the aid, fuel and trade with the nation and has not supported action to try and curb North Korea’s weapons development.
Despite threats, the Korean Herald is reporting that North Korea is preparing for another rocket launch.
In South Korea, members of the Unification Church (known as Moonies after founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon) participated in a mass wedding, the first since the founder’s death a year ago. Some 3,500 couples from 70 countries all said, “I do” together in a ceremony at Cheongshim Peace Centre in Gapyeong, south of Seoul. The church is widely regarded as a cult and their famous mass weddings have been criticized since many couples are pre-matched and some only meet right before the ceremony. Also, whether or not the couple speak the same language also seems to be irrelevant.
South Korea’s economic growth has been remarkable, taking the country from a third-world nation to one of the world’s leading economies in the last two decades. However, such rapid growth is coming at the price of Korea’s traditional social structure and is manifesting itself in some tragic ways. The New York Times, has a story about the increasing number of suicides of South Koreans 65 and older. Given that South Korea also holds one of the highest suicide rates among youths in the world, the increasing rate of elderly suicides provides tragic bookends. As South Korea prospers economically, the traditional Confucian social order that has directed Korean society for centuries is eroding. The oldest generation, who had fulfilled their obligation to give their children every possible advantage, are being left behind as their children seek opportunities elsewhere in a very competitive market.
In sports news, Son Heung-Min is set to overtake Park Ji-Sung as South Korea’s most beloved footballer. Park inspired a fanatic following among South Koreans (and is the number one reason why almost every one of my students root for Manchester United), but with Park’s advancing age, Son looks ready to take over as the country’s newest sports obsession. He’s likely to get transferred to the English Premier League and get picked up by either Tottenham, Chelsea or Liverpool.
Finally, the Asian-ness of this news is debatable, but it’s so cool I’m including it. A meteor exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk near the Ural Mountains in Russia, damaging buildings, exploding windows, and injuring about 1000 people. The event was documented pretty well since dashboard cameras in Russian cars are apparently a thing. Between this and 2012 DA14, I’ve taken to singing, “AND I DON’T WANT TO MISS A THING,” at random times. (Ed. note – More on this tomorrow! – Hillary)
Until next week.