Asia

By Simon Mundy in Seoul

North Korea’s recent slurs against the presidents of the US and South Korea exemplify a high-pitched, extravagant and often venomous propaganda style unmatched by any other nation – as well as the inherent contradictions and hypocrisy within much Pyongyang propaganda.

Despite the country’s well-documented human rights abuses, North Korea‘s state media has sought to promote a message of opposition to discrimination. Two weeks ago it published a report attacking racism and other problems in the US, which it described as “the world’s worst human rights abuser”. In March it gave extensive coverage to International Women’s Day, trumpeting the rights accorded North Korean women and highlighting complaints about sexism in South Korea.

All this sits awkwardly with recent, repeated descriptions of US President Barack Obama as a “monkey” and of South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a “prostitute” – among other racist and sexist insults.

 

• Twenty years ago Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point, but one man stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.

• Beijing’s military build-up is generating a new Asian arms race as China’s neighbours seek to counter its growing might. 

By Clive Cookson, Science Editor

In our world of super-surveillance it seems almost unthinkable that a large airliner with 239 people on board could have vanished without trace in one of the most populated regions of the world.

Dozens of aircraft and ships are criss-crossing the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca to search for signs of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early on Saturday morning. And a galaxy of civil and military satellites and high-flying spy planes, capable of distinguishing objects as small as a football, are observing from high in the sky.

 

♦ In Turkey, Gulenists have burnt their bridges with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, while Mr Erdogan makes no bones about his desire to purge the bureacracy of his former allies. It is, according to one of Turkey’s old secular elite, “like Alien vs Predator.
♦ Edward Luce points out that the Indian politicians expressing outrage over the strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade are suffering from a hypocrisy problem: “So far, no Indian leader has expressed a scintilla of concern about the rights of the Indian domestic servant whom Ms Khobragade had allegedly mistreated.”
♦ Ben Bernanke announced the taper, but minimised market discomfort.
♦ David Pilling considers which events shook Asia in 2013.
♦ James Carroll, a former priest, looks back at the first year of a radical pope.
♦ B.R. Myers, an expert on north Korea, explains exactly what happened to Kim Jong Un’s uncle and why Kim doesn’t look smart taking his wife around with him. 

♦ The US federal government is shut down and within days of default on Treasury debt but it is still just possible the whole farrago could turn into good news for the US economy, says Robin Harding.

Iran’s stock market soars but this is partly down to a lack of investment opportunities in other sectors of the stagnant economy.

♦ For those following the negotiations in the US, the New Yorker has compiled a Conservatives’ guide to rhetoric.

♦ A decisive victory by the National Front in Brignoles, France, on Sunday night has set alarm bells ringing in Paris that the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen will repeat the feat more widely in municipal elections.

♦ The New York Times takes a journey through the heartlands of Russia – the Russia being left behind.

♦ For the last edition of the International Herald Tribune, Thomas Fuller looks back at his years reporting in Asia – the lands of charm and cruelty.  

There’s been a lot written in the FT and elsewhere about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Here are five reasons you should care about this trade pact:

1. This is a big deal.

If, or when, it is finalised the 12-country Pacific Rim deal will cover countries responsible for almost 40 per cent of global GDP and involved in more than a third of global trade.

This chart is taken from a June 2013 report by the US Congressional Research Service. Some $18tn in goods is traded around the world each year these days. The countries in the TPP (The current “TPP 12”: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam) accounted for 36 per cent of that total in 2011.

 

By Gideon Rachman
Japan’s public diplomacy hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister. In recent months, the country has specialised in foreign policy gaffes that seem designed to give maximum offence to its Asian neighbours while causing maximum embarrassment to its western allies.

Jeremy Grant

Lee Kuan Yew on March 20 (Chris McGrath/Getty)

Lee Kuan Yew on March 20 (Chris McGrath/Getty)

Sightings of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s former prime minister, are rare these days. He is 89, physically frail and was hospitalised briefly in February.

But on Wednesday he popped up at a conference organised by Standard Chartered bank in the city’s Shangri-la Hotel, taking part in a “fireside chat” with Paul Volcker, the 86-year old former US Federal Reserve chairman.

Most people in the audience, which included the finance minister of the Philippines, were probably just as interested to see how the architect of modern Singapore looked, as in what he might have to say.

The last time I can remember seeing him in any public setting was last August, when he made a surprise appearance at Singapore’s national day celebrations.

The night before, taxi drivers were telling their passengers that the great man had died. His appearance silenced that gossip, but Singaporeans have been more conscious of their former leader’s mortality ever since.

Lee looked thin on Wednesday, but was dressed sharply in a dark blue Chinese silk jacket, with red cuffs. He made his way unaided to the stage and sat down. The only concession to physical decline were the sports shoes on his feet, which presumably help him walk more comfortably.

Much of what the founder of modern Singapore thinks about the big geopolitical issues of the day are well-known.

He doesn’t think that conflict between the US and China is inevitable (China needs the US export market for a good while yet); he doesn’t think that an “Arab Spring” is possible in Asia (there isn’t the vast disparity in wealth and incomes that exist in the Middle East); and Japan risks “dissolving into nothingness” if it continues to refuse taking in migrants to boost its working age population.