Category Archive : South Asia

South Korea flu jab: Investigation into 13 deaths after vaccine

BCG: Can a vaccine from 1921 save lives from Covid-19?

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China commemorates ‘victory’ in ‘war to resist US aggression’ as rivalry with Washington heats up,

In China, that conflict is known as the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea,” and is seen as a great victory, a view shared by Pyongyang, though North Korea failed to make any gains after its initial invasion of the South was rebuffed, and would likely have been defeated but for Beijing’s assistance.

On Friday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping will attend an event commemorating China’s entry into the war, where he will “deliver an important speech,” according to state news agency Xinhua. The ceremony caps a week of events, and jingoistic saber-rattling in Chinese state media and official propaganda.
Speaking earlier this week, Xi said the war was “a victory of justice, a victory of peace and a victory of the people” and should “inspire the Chinese people and the Chinese nation to overcome all difficulties and obstacles, and prevail over all enemies.”
In a lengthy front-page commentary in the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the official newspaper of China’s military, the author hailed the “glorious victory” which “left the Americans with the deepest impression that what Chinese people say counts,” and to respect “China’s red lines.”
One of those alleged red lines potentially came close to being crossed this week, as the US State Department on Wednesday approved the proposed sale of $1.8 billion in advanced weapons systems sales to Taiwan, over the vociferous objections of Beijing, which has warned Washington that such a sale could “gravely” damage US-China relations and cross-straits stability.

Taiwan has emerged as a major potential flashpoint between the US and China in recent years, as Washington has become more forceful in its approach toward Beijing and China adopted a threatening posture towards the self-ruled island, which it has vowed to seize militarily if necessary.

In an op-ed Wednesday, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Xi’s “ambitions for control are not limited to the people of China,” words that he echoed in an address to the Atlantic Future Forum, an event organized by the British military, in which he accused Beijing of “seeking dominance in all domains and sectors,” according to a Reuters report of the event.
Washington has been trying to rally its allies, both in Asia and elsewhere, to take a more forceful approach to China, even as the pandemic and the forthcoming US presidential election has largely distracted attention at home. This week it was announced that Australia will join the US, Japan and India in naval exercises in the Indian Ocean next month, another step in the militarization of the so-called Quad alliance between the four nations.
That comes, however, amid renewed questions about the US’ perceived dominance in the Pacific. A new report by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank with links to the government, found that Washington’s military and diplomatic influence in the region has suffered as a result of the pandemic, while China’s was on the rise.

“Despite its continuing pre-eminence, US standing has waned,” Lowy noted in its recent Pacific Power Index. “Washington, far from being the undisputed unipolar power, can more correctly be described as the first among equals in a bipolar Indo-Pacific.”

Meanwhile, the report said, “Beijing has enhanced its military capability by investing in weaponry that could threaten US and allied bases in the region.”

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Thailand’s Prime Minister says he’ll lift state of emergency but protesters need to ‘reciprocate with sincerity’

In a pre-recorded speech that was televised on Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he is taking the first steps to “de-escalate” political tensions that have seen tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets in recent months, calling for a new constitution, monarchy reform and Prayut’s resignation.

“The protestors have made their voices and views heard,” Prayut said. “As the leader of the nation who is responsible for the welfare of all Thais — whether they be protestors or the silent majority with whatever political convictions — I will make the first move to de-escalate this situation.”

Prayut said he is planning to lift the state of severe emergency in the capital on the condition that “there are no violent incidents” and asked protesters to work through representatives in parliament.

“I ask the protesters to reciprocate with sincerity, to turn down the volume on hateful and divisive talk, and to let us, together, disperse this terrible dark cloud before it moves over our country,” the Prime Minster added.

Meanwhile, an extraordinary parliamentary session was given royal assent and will be convened from Monday, according to an announcement from Thailand’s Royal Gazette. Thailand’s parliament is in recess but will be recalled to debate the crisis. The order said King Maha Vajiralongkorn approved the session “With necessity for the national interest.”

 Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally on October 21, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Student-led demonstrators have continued defying an emergency decree imposed last Thursday that banned public gatherings of more than five people, restricted the publication of information deemed to incite fear among the public, and granted broader powers to security forces.

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Bangkok and other cities over the weekend, galvanized by clashes between police and protesters on Friday. Many people, including celebrities, have publicly condemned the police’s use of water cannons to disperse protesters.

“Last Friday night, we saw things that should never be in Thailand,” Prayut said in Wednesday’s speech, referring to some of the violent clashes between protesters and police. But he acknowledged the peaceful “well-meaning” demonstrators as well.

Started by students, the protest movement has been mostly peaceful and has attracted support from a wider cross-section of society. Marches and flash-mob style rallies are organized online over messaging platforms such as Telegram, with protest locations announced last minute on social media.

On Wednesday, protesters said they were giving Prayut three days to resign or face more demonstrations.

A representative from the pro-democracy protesters handed a mock resignation letter to the Bangkok metropolitan police chief and a representative from the government, and at the bottom of the letter was a blank space for the Prime Minister to sign.

“Prayut must resign within three days, or else will face with people again,” a local protest leader said.

They said they would suspend their activities for three days to give the government time to respond. Prayut has previously said that he will not step down.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters march to Government House on October 21, 2020 in Bangkok.

The group are also demanding the release of arrested protesters in custody, including several protest leaders. Thai police said that 77 people have been arrested from the protests in Bangkok since October 13. Thai Lawyers for Human rights put the number of people arrested nationwide at 87, with 81 prosecuted.

Charges have ranged from smaller offenses to more serious crimes such as sedition, which carries a maximum seven years in prison, and violating the Computer Crime Act.

Last week, two activists were arrested on charges of attempting violence against the Queen, after her motorcade was obstructed by anti-government crowds. The pair face a possible life sentence.

The threat of prison, the arrest of protest leaders and the emergency decree has not deterred protesters. A central demand is reforming Thailand’s powerful monarchy to curb the King’s powers and make him answerable to the constitution.

Protesters have scrutinized King Vajiralongkorn’s immense wealth and power. Vajiralongkorn has consolidated his power by expanding his own appointed military unit, the King’s Guard. He has also vastly increased his personal wealth and transferred billions of dollars worth of royal assets held by the Thai Crown directly into his control.

Another core demand of the protesters is for the military-drafted constitution to be rewritten as they say it allows the military to hold onto political power. True democracy cannot happen in Thailand, the protesters say, until the top-down ruling establishment made up of the monarchy, military and wealthy political elites is reformed.

CNN’s Chandler Thornton and Hira Humayun contributed.

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Japan has so few women politicians that when even one is gaffe-prone, it’s damaging

This wasn’t the first time the lawmaker and member of the ruling LDP party’s Women Activity Promotion Taskforce has alienated parts of the electorate with her conservative views.

She has also victim-blamed Shiori Ito, a journalist and icon of Japan’s #MeToo movement, by stating her alleged rape was due to “clear errors on her part as a woman,” according to local media reports.

Experts say Sugita’s recent apology missed the mark, and her comments are damaging — especially in a country with so few female politicians.

Toeing the boy’s club line

Globally, politics remains one of the most male-dominated spheres in society. Only 25% of all national parliamentarians were women as of October 2020, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments.
In Japan, only 46 of 465 lower house lawmakers are women — that’s fewer than 10%, compared to a 25% global average and 20% average in Asia, as of October.

Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister who served in former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government before she resigned in 2017, said being part of a minority comes with its stereotypes.

“We are often judged to be emotional and are treated with skepticism when we voice our opinion strongly. That’s because we are such extreme minority in Japanese politics,” says Inada.

To survive, some women in Japanese politics feel the pressure to comply with their male counterparts’ views to fit in, according to Chizuko Ueno, a sociologist and the chief director of the Women’s Action Network. “They can become more hawkish than their male colleagues,” she adds.

Inada acknowledges feeling pressure to conform to the male majority’s viewpoint while in government, but says it is important for women not to give in to this.

Japan's member of the House of Representatives Mio Sugita attends at the opening of the extraordinary Diet session in Tokyo, Japan on October 24, 2018.

However, Sugita’s latest actions encourage the normalization of casually misogynistic views, says Kukhee Choo, a Japan-based media scholar.

“Countless feminists paved the way for Sugita, but she is using her position of power to dismantle the privilege they built for her. It’s like she turned against that very fight,” says Choo.

That view was echoed by the Flower Demo, a human rights group organizing a movement against sex crimes. It issued a statement in response to Sugita’s remarks, saying “parliamentarians who ought to address gender inequality must not be allowed to set the wrong example by issuing sexually discriminatory remarks and revealing their ignorance of the very real problem of sexual violence.”

Shifting attitudes

In the past, women in Japan who defied expectations and pushed the needle on gender equality have faced backlash.

For instance, in 2017, Yuka Ogata, a local Japanese politician, was confronted by lawmakers for trying to bring her baby to a council session. One councilman shouted at her while others told her that she couldn’t stay and had to leave the room immediately. Ogata had wanted to show how difficult it is for women to find a work-life balance.
I don't wear high heels for anyone but me. Got that, boss?
However, in recent years, campaigns such as #MeToo and #KuToo — which saw women petition against wearing high heels to work — have put Japan’s gender inequality and human rights issues in the spotlight.

“All generations in Japan have access to the internet, and younger people, in particular, have mobilized on social media to express their opinions and force politicians to change their stance on topics,” says Choo.

Increasingly, people in Japan are no longer willing to turn a blind eye to discriminatory remarks made by politicians, adds Ueno, the sociologist.

“Society is changing and the media’s high attention on Sugita’s remark is proof of such change. Not long ago, remarks like hers were so commonplace they were overlooked but now it’s getting a headline,” says Ueno.

Toothless reforms

Inada says people in Japan think a strong woman will climb the political ladder alone, but that’s a myth. “We will never be able to change the system if we stick to the idea,” she says.

Today, for instance, 127 countries use electoral gender quotas to increase women’s representation in politics, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

Inada has backed implementing enforced electoral quotas, arguing that increasing female participation raises responsiveness to policies concerning women, and is also beneficial to men.

“(Japan is) probably 20 to 30 years behind many other countries, but now is the time for female politicians to take action,” says Inada.

Some steps have been made towards change. In 2018, a law was passed to encourage political parties to set targets for gender parity.

However, as with an 1985 equal employment law which aimed to promote gender equality in private companies, there are no legal requirements or penalties for parties that fail to comply, according to Hiroko Goto, a gender equality expert at Chiba University.

As a result, Japan’s ruling LDP has a poor record of appointing women. In 2018, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed just one woman, Satsuki Katayama, to his new cabinet — claiming she could do the work of “two or three” women.

The situation didn’t get much better in 2020.

When Yoshihide Suga took over office in September, he appointed only two women to his 21-strong team, to the chagrin of many, including the former defense minister Inada. She declared shortly afterward that Japan was a “democracy without women.”

Inada sought to join Japan’s LDP leadership race after Abe resigned in August due to poor health. However, neither she nor Seiko Noda, a former internal affairs minister, secured the 20 nominations needed from other LDP lawmakers to run as a candidate.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was the LDP’s first and only female candidate — and that was in the 2008 presidential election.

Strength in numbers

Despite the barriers, more women are applying for political office than ever before.

Last year, of 370 candidates seeking one of the 124 seats being contested in the Upper House of Councilors, 104 — or almost 30% — were women, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Of those, 28 women were elected — matching a previous high from 2016, according to NHK.

Ueno, the sociologist, says while these women can serve as role models in Japan, many of them are members of smaller, left-wing parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), which have a less influential presence in the Japanese parliament. Also, Japan’s upper house is the less powerful of the parliament’s two houses — for instance, laws are generally passed by the lower house before being sent to the upper house for approval. The lower house can overrule the decisions of the upper house with a majority vote on significant national issues, such as the selection of the prime minister and budgets.

For members of the Flower Demo, who say Sugita’s remarks amounted to a “second rape” for sexual assault survivors, the fight continues. On October 13, the group brought a petition with over 136,000 signatures, demanding Sugita’s resignation, to the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo. The LDP refused to accept it, according to Minori Kitahara, a Flower Demo member who launched the petition.

The LDP Secretary General’s office said they did not accept the petition of the Flower Demo as it is not usual practice for them to do so.

“(Sugita) has always made remarks like that and the ruling LDP party has forgiven her. But as the Japanese #MeToo is gaining momentum, the LDP can’t ignore this,” says Kitahara.

“Japan is such a male dominated society, we really want the few female politicians to be feminists. We also need (male politicians) to be better allies to women, and understand that the gender issue is important.”

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Coronavirus: ‘I caught Covid at my uncle’s funeral’

Binu, a construction worker in the southern Indian state of Kerala, sorely regrets attending his uncle’s funeral. He caught Covid-19 at the ceremony and spread it to at least another eight people.

Despite a recent surge in infections, Kerala with its well-equipped public health system is better equipped than some other Indian states to deal with the crisis.

Kamalamma, a health worker sharing information on the virus from door to door in the state, says older and infirm people are largely taking precautions but that younger people are still less concerned about the disease.

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Asafoetida: The smelly spice India loves but never grew

Asafoetida occupies a treasured spot in the Indian pantry, but has never been farmed there until now.

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Australia to join India, US, Japan in large naval exercises

Conducted annually since 1992, the maneuvers have grown in size and complexity in recent years to address what the US Navy has previously described as a “variety of shared threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia Pacific.”

The participation of Australia means that all four members of the so-called Quad will be participating in the exercises for the first time since 2007.

The Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is an informal strategic forum for the US, Japan, Australia and India, featuring semi-regular summits and information exchanges between the four nations.

While not a formal military alliance like NATO, it is seen by some as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged aggression in Asia-Pacific. The collation has been denounced by Beijing as an anti-China bloc.

The Australian and Indian defense ministries announced the expansion of the drills, which had been long-speculated, late Monday.

Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said the Malabar exercises were key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, and showcased the “deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests.”

Australia’s previous participation in the drills in 2007 sparked diplomatic protests from China. Relations between China and Australia have since deteriorated, however, with the two countries locked in a series of long-running trade disputes.

Other members of the Quad have also seen tensions with Beijing spike in recent months. Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the Line of Actual Control — the de facto border between the two countries in the Himalayas — in June.
Japan and China remain at odds over the disputed Senkaku Islands, named the Diaoyus by China, where Beijing has increased the presence of its coast guard vessels.
The US meanwhile has increased the tempo of its naval and air missions in the South China Sea, while pushing back at Beijing’s claims to the vast waterway.

In a statement Monday, India’s Defense Ministry said the four participants “collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules based international order.”

The exercises will begin in November in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, India said.

Malabar began as a bilateral exercise between India and the US. Japan became a permanent Malabar member in 2015.

Previous exercises have taken place in the Indian Ocean as well as off the coast of Japan a year ago, and around the US Pacific territory of Guam and in the Philippine Sea in 2018.

The 2017 exercises in the Indian Ocean involved aircraft carriers from the US, India and Japan in what were then described as the largest naval exercises in the region in two decades.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed reporting.

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Melbourne lockdown: Cycling trend ‘burbing’ takes off under tight restrictions

The Australian city of Melbourne has faced one of the world’s longest and harshest lockdowns. Tight restrictions included a 5km (3 mile) travel limit, sparking the trend “burbing”; to cycle every road in a suburb. Resident Ben Loke decided to take this trend even further and ride every street in his 5km radius.

Video by Isabelle Rodd.

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Many killed and wounded in Afghanistan visa stampede

Chaos broke out when thousands gathered in a stadium in Afghanistan to apply for visas to Pakistan.

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China’s Covid success compared to Europe shows lockdowns are the first step, not a solution

For many in Europe, China’s approach to the coronavirus is characterized by the initial draconian, 76-day lockdown seen in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where cases of the virus were first detected late last year.

But other parts of the country never saw such stringent restrictions, even during the early stages of the pandemic when similar lockdowns were introduced in cities throughout China.

China’s success in controlling the coronavirus is not so much a product of those early control measures — though these have been utilized effectively to halt regional flare-ups — but how the country handles things after people are allowed to move around again.

In particular, China’s ability to track and trace cases across the country whenever there is the suggestion of a new cluster of infections has enabled the government to respond quickly and bring local epidemics under control.

This has included a sophisticated color-sorted “health code” system to track people’s movements. A clear (green) bill of health and corresponding QR code is required to enter many businesses, ensuring that almost everyone has adopted the measure, making tracing in the instance of an outbreak easier.
These measures have allowed regional governments to lock down a specific area or conduct mass testing where necessary. This was most recently seen in the city of Qingdao in northeastern China, where more than 10 million people were tested in around a week, after 12 locally-transmitted cases were reported.

Between provinces and regions, borders that were previously frictionless and mostly invisible are now increasingly monitored, so public transport can be restricted or halted completely in the instance of an outbreak. Entry into China from overseas has also been heavily restricted, with strict quarantine measures enforced on arrival.

Containment has also been assisted by widespread mask wearing and sticking to public hygiene regulations, which have often been strictly policed by Chinese authorities, and promoted by mass propaganda campaigns. Sometimes this has been used to further empower China’s giant security state, and compliance is rarely optional, but the methods being used have been shown to be effective in other Asian countries without the threat of punishment.

In part, this more productive response to the virus in China — and in other places throughout Asia, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan — is due to the differing reaction from the general population in this region compared to Europe.

East Asia suffered through the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and the memory of that held strong, making mask use and other precautions easy to encourage. In parts of Europe and other Western countries, particularly the US, wearing masks remains a controversial issue even now, months after they have been shown to be effective.
This also helped shape official responses to the virus — unlike in other countries, Asian governments had epidemic plans in place to deal with potential outbreaks, and didn’t have to scramble to come up with a plan. And while China was criticized for its initial handling of the epidemic in Wuhan — censoring news and downplaying its seriousness — once it had been acknowledged as a national threat, the response was quick and decisive, unlike the dithering seen in Europe and the US even as the potential for a global pandemic was understood.
China has also remained on high alert even as it returned to normal, able to respond quickly to new clusters, and track and trace anyone potentially affected through QR codes, apps, and the country’s sprawling (and often highly-intrusive) surveillance state. Similar efforts have been utilized in South Korea, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.
By comparison, tracing in much of Europe remains a shambles, and the ability to conduct mass testing is lacking in many countries. Where testing is conducted, the utility of the results is often squandered because the infrastructure for tracing and quarantining regional clusters is still lacking.

Similarly, European borders have remained largely open — despite the bloc having the right to close its usually open boundaries in the name of public health — with summer travelers blamed for several recent outbreaks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) noted as far back as February that “much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain Covid-19 in China.”

“Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures,” the report said.

Unfortunately, in the intervening months, even as China’s response has been shown to be effective — and similar models have shown success in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia long exposed to the virus — Europe continues to lag behind.

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