Fire at Poultry Plant in China
One of the worst of recent plant explosions in China happened this morning in the northeast part of the state. Blasts were heard at 6AM and parts of plant’s buildings were engulfed by flames from a fire and was charred (when exactly the fire broke out, either before or after the blast, is still unknown). Fearing more explosions, residents within a kilometer were evacuated. About 300 to 350 people were in the plant when the blast occurred: at least 100 safely made it out of the plant, another 54 were taken to the hospital due to inhaling toxic gases, and 119 have been reported dead so far. Reports mention the fact that many Chinese plants do not have adequate fire exits and as these small-scale explosions continue, it is necessary for more effort to be put into the fire escapes. However, with economic growth in China, many are willing to put aside safety measures to focus on output – standards might be strict but compliance is not.
India’s Annual Growth Declines
The recorded annual growth for India for the 2012-2013 fiscal year saw a sharp decline from 6.2% to 5%. Up until three years ago, India was predicted to reach double digits but there has since been a decline from the rapid 9%. The decline seen in India, however, is not surprising. The numbers are all in line with the market expectations: The Central Statistics Office (CSO) predicted a 5% growth. Factors contributing to the decline of India’s GDP revolve around a loose fiscal policy, a tight monetary policy, and general policy paralysis; spiked inflation and weak export demands have also caused economic growth to decline. The continued lack of reforms has caused investors to shy away and a drop in foreign direct investments has contributed to the decline. These necessary reforms concern the need for infrastructure implementation and luckily with the new Cabinet Committee, the state will see infrastructure projects speed up and economic reforms to accelerate growth. The decline in GDP has also weakened investment ratings, which the main credit rating agency warned could cause borrowing costs to raise.
Earthquake Shakes Taiwan
An earthquake of a 6.3 (Aljareeza) to 6.5 (NBC) magnitude struck the island Sunday night. Some damaged was caused but it mostly minor. The quake did trigger a gas explosion in the center of the island but details on this explosion are limited. Aljareeza reported one man killed from the gas explosion and a male mountain climber killed by falling rocks on Mount Ali. The quake shook houses but nothing fell and the citizens are lucky because an earthquake of such magnitude could have caused serious damage.
North Korean Refugees Returned from Laos via China
Nine defectors were returned to North Korea on June 2 after being arrested in Laos in mid-May. This is the first time Laos has repatriated North Korean refugees and it comes as a surprise. The group of these nine, aged between 15 and 23, were sent to China where they were put on a flight back to Pyongyang because China does not view North Korea defectors as asylum seekers. The punishment this group will face upon their return to North Korea is unknown but reports suggest the punishment would not be less than severe. Due to this severe punishment the group of youths is going to face, international organizations and states have condemned the decisions China and Laos made – knowingly returning orphaned and homeless refugees, five of who are minors, to a state where repercussions tend to mean death – and expressed grave concern for refugees. Failed defectors, under North Korea law, can face either a minimum of five years’ hard labor, life sentencing, and even the death penalty in serious cases. Specifically the UN and various human rights groups have brought up the international legal principle of “non-refoulement” which protects victims of persecution from being returned to states where their lives are at risk. The UN has requested independent and immediate access to the group but whether North Korea will comply is debated. The U.S. State Department has also expressed concern and urged all states in the region to protect the North Korean refugees in their territories. The South Korean couple helping the refugees has since been charged by Laos with human trafficking. The identities of the defectors are also still being questioned due to possible links to the Japanese man and woman who went missing back in the 1970s – if the identities are true then North Korea could be in even more trouble for having lied about its abduction of the two Japanese citizens for over 40 years.
Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. Vow Alliance against North Korea
The first gathering of defense chiefs happened June 1at the Asia Security Summit. These talks have begun in lieu of North Korea conveying its readiness to rejoin the six-party talks. The summit reinforced the trilateral cooperation of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea and solidified continued collaboration to deter North Korean threats and provocative behavior. The three agreed North Korea poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, the Asian region, and around the world. North Korea was also told to comply with UN Security Council Resolution to abandon its nuclear programs and if it refuses, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. are ready to take further significant action, especially in the event of another North Korea missile launch or test. Additionally, the three states, fostering their common values and security interests, agreed to expand mutual efforts in maritime security, cyber security, and missile defense. Japan and South Korea also addressed the proposed General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) which will have a significant impact on the response given to North Korea in the event of another belligerent act. The U.S. and South Korea also agreed that North Korea would only face more isolation if it continues to pursue its nuclear program.
Taiwan’s Ex-President Attempts Suicide
The 62-year old ex-President of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, attempted to commit suicide on June 2 in a bathroom at the Taichung prison. The attempt involved a towel, but how it was used has not been disclosed. Chen is currently serving a 20-year sentence at the prison for corruption offenses committed during his 2000-2008 presidential tenure. Chen has repeatedly fought the claim, saying that his actions were not corrupt because the use of his special presidential fund was to conduct secret Taiwanese diplomacy rather than for personal use. Chen’s office has continued to press for his release on medical parole due to his poor health and depressed state of mind in the prison but the chances of medical parole look slim. However, although having tried to kill himself, Chen is doing well with no serious abnormalities or issues.
Increased Nuclear Arsenals in China and India
China and India, two of the world’s nuclear powers, have increased nuclear arsenals over the past year. Interestingly enough, the other six nuclear powers have either stabled or decreased their arsenals. China and India have added about ten nuclear warheads putting China with 250 and India with 110. India has increased its nuclear arsenal through new ballistic missile technology. Kile pointed out that India’s increasing of long range missile capabilities are not targeted so much at Pakistan, but rather at China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, explained that China has always kept nuclear capabilities at the lowest level appropriate for national security and groundless speculations should not be made. However, Shannon Kile, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, claimed the increased U.S. spending has been pushing China to make its missiles more mobile and harder to attack.
Restarting the Yongbyon Reactor
North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility has recently been viewed through new satellite imagery and suggests the restarting of a 5MWe gas graphite reactor and a 20-30MWt experimental light water reactor. However, the one to two month timespan before the reactor is operational can be pushed back if North Korea does not have enough fuel rods available to power the reactors. The decision for the North to restart its nuclear program that can produce weapons-grade plutonium came in February 2013 after nuclear tests. Once the reactor becomes operational it is said to be able to make up to six kilograms of plutonium each year – the North has plenty reserves of uranium ore and is focusing on plutonium production – which could yield somewhere from five to 10 small bombs. The suspicions of nuclear activity being restarted comes from the satellite imagery that shows the construction of a new cooling tower (the prior one was destroyed in 2007 per the Six Party Agreement) and more activity at a fuel rod facility. Analysts believe the external activity seen at the Yongbyon Facility suggests internal activity is going on as well.
China Discusses Continued Bilateral Ties Abroad
In the recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, and soon Mexico, President Xi has reiterated his desire to continue mutually beneficial cooperation with Latin America. In Costa Rica, Xi and Costa Rican President Chinchilla oversaw the signing of cooperation deals between the two states in the field of politics, economy, and citizen exchanges. Xi expressed deepening the Latin America-China relations and wishes to continue the traditional friendship. China has also sent Defense Minister Chang Wanquan to Canada to discuss military cooperation, military relations, and international and regional security concerns. China and Canada have agreed to establish a work meeting mechanism to share views of topics of similar interest and facilitate defense plan exchanges. Both are to further implement important agreements, increase political trust, acknowledge concerns, and expand cooperation. Chinese President Xi will also meet with President Obama this week and later in June India will send its defense minister to China to discuss military relations, especially regarding escalatory mechanisms along the Line of Control (LAC) to limit military face-offs.
Radioactive Leak at Fukushima Nuclear Plant
On Wednesday a radioactive water leak was found in one of the numerous steel tanks in the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Water is stored in these huge tanks after being used to cool melted reactor cores. The size of the leak was small, about one drop every three seconds. Once engineers contained the leak it was reported only about a quart-sized amount escaped. Groundwater around the plant also turned out to be contaminated with cesium particles. The radioactivity of the groundwater stayed within safe levels: .22 becquerels of cesium-134 and .39 becquerels of cesium-137 per liter of water, far below the highest becquerels levels, 10. Japan’s government is now questioning the ability of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to deal with the clean-up. Clean-up and improvement of the plant is expected to take years but to immediately combat these issues, the government ordered Tepco to freeze soil around reactor buildings to create a wall of ice to stop the influx of contaminated groundwater. Tepco also plans to pump groundwater into the sea before it reaches the contaminated area; however, the chances of Tepco gaining local approval of this plan look slim.
North and South Korea to Engage in Talks Regarding Kaesong
North Korea proposed talks with South Korea to discuss the reopening of, and normalization of commercial relations at the Kaesong Industrial Park. The North is willing to restore communication that has been severed since March if the South accepts the offer. South Korean officials accepted the offer for talks and hopes improved relations result. The two also will discuss the reopening of Mount Kumgang for tourism and family reunions for those split by the 1950 Korean War. The talks will take place in Seoul on June 12. The reopening of Kaesong is important for South Korea, having over 120 companies in the park, and essential for North Korea, the park employed over 50,000 citizens, and the failure to reopen Kaesong would result in more than just material lost. However, as promising as these talks look, reports suggest that the North is only behaving due to talks between Chinese President Xi and President Obama scheduled for June 7 and those between South Korean President Park and President Xi later in June. It is speculated that the North is solely engaging the South in talks to see how much the South will hand over to reopen Kaesong. Either way, the North still claims it hopes government-to-government talks will prove to be an opportunity to better relations and build trust between the two states.