News Timeline: East Asia 2017


January 30 – Philippines
The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte suspends his controversial war on drugs program after the murder of a South Korean businessman Jee Ick-Joo. In October of last year, Jee Ick-Joo was kidnapped from his residence outside Manila and killed, after which his kidnappers, asked for ransom from his family saying he was involved in the illegal drug trade. The kidnappers turned out to be members of the Philippine National Police.[1] President Duterte says the anti-drug force will be dissolved and reestablished to root out corruption. So far, more than 6,200 people were killed in Duterte’s war on drugs. More than 4,000 of these were victims of extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings.[2]

February 13: North Korea / Malaysia
Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is killed by poison at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The surveillance camera shows two women attacking Kim and smearing his face with cloth with what the autopsy later revealed is the deadly VX nerve agent. Two women, Vietnamese and Indonesian nationals, are arrested and charged with murder. They say they were paid to do it in what was described to them as a reality TV prank. Malaysian authorities are looking for seven other North Korean suspects in the murder, including a diplomat. Kim Jong-nam was once considered next in line to assume North Korea’s leadership, but after falling out of favor he was passed over to the benefit of his younger half-brother. He has since lived in exile.

April 6 – Thailand
The King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand signs a new constitution, which paves the way for elections in 2018. This constitution, which was approved in a national referendum in August 2016, is Thailand’s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.[3] The new constitution gives more power to the military by creating an army-appointed senate, with six seats reserved for the military. It allows an unelected person to be appointed as Prime Minister, possibly opening the position for a military official. A proportional voting system reduces the influence of major parties. The new constitution also gives additional powers to the constitutional court, making it easier to impeach a civilian leader.[4]

April 15 – North Korea 
North Korea stages a massive military parade to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of current leader, Kim Jong-un. The parade shows off a wealth of new missiles and launchers. For the first time, the regime shows off two new intercontinental ballistic missile-sized canisters, a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a land-based version of the same.[5] (April 16): North Korea attempts to launch a ballistic missile from the eastern port of Sinpo despite international condemnation and UN sanctions after several such tests in recent years. The test fails, as the missile explodes soon after launch. It contributes, however, to rising tensions between North Korea and the United States. (April 25): Amid the tense situation with North Korea, the United States sends a submarine to South Korea’s port of Busan. This nuclear-powered submarine is equipped with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 60 special operations troops and mini subs.[6]

May 1 – Australia
The joint Australian and British study features remote, uninhabited Henderson Island (part of Pitcairn Islands) in the South Pacific, as the world’s largest reservoir of beach-washed waste, especially plastic, due to its location and favorable direction of oceanic currents. According to the study, the annual production of plastic worldwide has increased from 1.7 million tons in 1954 to 311 million tons in 2014. Because it is buoyant and durable and most is not recycled, disposed plastic items eventually enter our waterways and cause a major global environmental issue. An estimated17.6 tons of debris is currently present on Henderson Island, and keeps growing daily. The authors of the study report that the world’s oceans now contains more than five trillion items, mostly microplastics, which poses a major threat to the wildlife in these waters and the islands.[7]
Watch BBC video (3:48 min): Could plastic roads help to save the planet?

May 10 – South Korea
Following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, the centre-left candidate Moon Jae-in, representing the Democratic Party, is elected South Korea’s president with 41 percent of the vote.[8] During the campaign, he faced four other major party candidates. During this presidential campaign, some of the biggest priorities for South Koreans were the economy and corruption. Moon Jae-in is a human rights lawyer and a former activist. As the son of North Korean refugees, Moon promised a change in policy towards North Korea by increasing contact with the hermit country.

May 31 – China
Kenya opens the Madaraka Express, a major new express railway between the port city of Mombasa and the capital Nairobi. The railway is economically important to Kenya as it cuts the travel time between these two cities by half. This line will be later extended by another 155 miles from the central town of Naivasha to Kisumu in the west. The railway is planned eventually to connect South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia on the Indian Ocean, opening the region’s markets for trade. This huge $3.2-billion infrastructure project has been funded with long-term loans from China. It is part of China’s ambitious massive global infrastructure project, Belt and Road Initiative.[9] This $4-trillion initiative, also referred to as the new Silk Road, plans to encompass around 60 countries and is seen by China as a way of extending its commercial influence around the globe.[10]
Watch a video (1:10 min): What is the One Belt One Road initiative?

June 13 – Taiwan / China
Panama cuts diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establishes diplomatic recognition with China. Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee accuses the Panamanian government of ignoring decades of Taiwan’s assistance to Panama and giving in to economic interests by People’s Republic of China.[11] The situation is caused by China’s “One-China policy”, the view that there is only one “China”. In practice this means that countries seeking diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China must break official relations with Taiwan, officially the Republic of China. There are only 20 countries that still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.[12]
More about historical divide between China and Taiwan from BBC: What’s behind the China-Taiwan divide?

June 22 – China
The US Department of State releases its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which measures and ranks government efforts in three areas: prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime. Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude, and recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Report incorporates the insights of NGOs, advocates, and survivors with firsthand experience to provide evidence and to educate the public about the $150 billion illicit human trafficking industry. It also intends to provide an incentive for governments to prevent and prosecute trafficking, support victims, and shield at-risk populations.[13]

The Report ranks countries in three tiers according to their response to human trafficking. Tier 1 consists of countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA). Tier 3 includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA and are not making efforts to do so.[14] This year’s report downgrades China, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Russia, and Uzbekistan to tier 3, the rank of worst offenders.
2017 Trafficking in Persons Report

July 4 – North Korea
North Korea tests its first ever inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 (ICBM) in defiance of a ban by the United Nations Security Council, and despite sanctions already imposed by several countries.[15] An ICBM is a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. It has a range of up to 6,200 miles, which means it could reach the U.S. state of Alaska. However, it is not clear at this point whether the North Korean missile has the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead and hit a target accurately. North Korean state news agency KCNA hails the launch as a great success and claims victory in putting an end to the persistent nuclear war threat posed by the U.S. against North Korea.[16]
Why does North Korea hate the US? Video (1:53 min)
How North Korea Became a Crisis. Video (3:40 min)

July 5 – Australia
Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia use settler diaries, newspaper reports, court records, oral accounts, and letters to create a map detailing massacres of the native Aborigines by European settlers between 1788 and 1872. So far, the project completes about 150 locations on the country’s east coast. Each site on the map includes details about the number of people killed, their identity, how they were killed, and who was responsible. The map also includes six recorded massacres of colonists during the same period.[17] The study also points to other factors that affected the history of Aboriginal populations, such as disease, loss of land, abduction of children, and control of movement. The purpose of the project is to educate about native Australian population and help understand the factors that affected their history.
Map of Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

July 6 – Japan / South Korea
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Union sign a free trade agreement, which abolishes tariff barriers between the two entities. Japan is the EU’s second biggest trading partner in Asia after China. It exports over $92 billion worth of goods and services a year and Japanese companies in the EU employ more than half a million people. This trade deal removes almost all custom duties, which sum up to $1.1bn annually and opens up Japan’s market for EU’s agricultural products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, as well as high tech products. For Japan, the EU is a big market for its automobiles.[18] This free trade agreement counters EU critics and Brexit proponents that the EU is unable to promote free trade.
More on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership

The agreement with Japan is expected to have similar benefits as the one with South Korea signed by the EU in 2012. Since then EU exports to South Korea have increased by 55 percent and European companies have saved $3.2 billion by eliminating customs duties. Those who worried about imports of Korean cars to Europe saw EU car exports to South Korea increasing by 206 percent, while imports from Korea increasing by 53 percent.[19]

July 13 – China
China’s most prominent political dissident and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo dies from liver cancer. Liu was a university professor and a pro-democracy activist repeatedly jailed since 1989’s pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests. Before he died, he served an 11-year sentence for his part drafting the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for political reforms, multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China. He was charged with an attempt to overthrow the state. The Chinese authorities refused his request to travel abroad for treatment.
More on Liu Xiaobo:
Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner
In his own words
The love that survived a Chinese labour camp

August 5 – North Korea / Japan / South Korea
The United Nations Security Council unanimously passes a resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea for its repeated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing in violation of previous UN resolutions. The new sanctions target the country’s main exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood, as well as banks and joint ventures.[20] They are meant to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. According to U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the sanctions could cost North Korea $1billion a year in revenue.[21] North Korea threatens to retaliate by striking the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. (August 15): As an implementation of the UN sanctions, China imposes import bans on coal, iron, and seafood from North Korea. The country depends on China heavily for its trade, with over 90 percent of its exports going to China.[22] (August 29): North Korea conducts a provocative ballistic missile testing by firing a missile over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, which then crashes in the Pacific. The Japanese government prompts the residents to take cover. In defiance, North Korea vows more military operations in the Pacific.[23] (September 5): Russian President Vladimir Putin says that pursuing more sanctions against North Korea is “useless” and calls for diplomatic solutions.[24]

September 11 – Myanmar 
In response to recent persecutions of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, which has led to more than 430,000[25] of them fleeing to Bangladesh, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein denounces their treatment and says “the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”[26] The recent violence was sparked by attacks by Rohingya militants on 30 police posts in northern Rakhine region on August 25. The militants claim to protect the Rohingya Muslim minority from state repression. In response, Myanmar’s security forces and local militia initiated a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya civilian population killing many of them and burning their villages. Aid agencies and the UN are working to provide food, water and shelter for the huge influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world with no home or citizenship.[27]
More on the Rohingya people from Amnesty International

September 24 – North Korea / China 
North Korea carries out its sixth nuclear test, threatens to fire off missiles towards the US island territory of Guam and says it might test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. It is also believed that North Korea may have succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear weapon that could fit on an inter-continental missile.[28] (September 25): North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho says that U.S. President Donald Trump declared war on North Korea by tweeting that North Korea “won’t be around much longer.” Ri says that “since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make all self-defensive counter measures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers at any time even when they are not yet inside the aerospace border of our country.”[29] (September 28): In compliance with new sanctions by the United Nations against North Korea, in response to its latest nuclear test, China agrees to shut down North Korean companies operating in China, including joint Chinese-North Korean ventures. China, North Korea’s only major ally and main trading partner, has been under pressure to take action.
“The North Korean economy is actually growing despite sanctions” from Vox

November 10 – Vietnam 
During his five-nation trip to Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. In his address, President Trump attacks multilateralism, claiming lower trade barriers hurt American workers and lead to big trade deficits. He says his Administration prefers that the U.S. enter bilateral trade deals. His policy reverses the role of the United States that created many of the multilateral and free trade agreements for Asia in the past. This vacuum is being filled by China, a rising economic and political influence in the region, with President Xi Jinping speaking in support of free trade and globalization.[30]

APEC is committed to reducing barriers to trade and investment among its 21 member-countries (2.8 billion people) from the Pacific region (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam.) It represented 59 percent of world GDP and 49 percent of world trade in 2015. Between 1989 and 2015, APEC total trade has increased more than 6.7 times to $20 trillion. In the same years, trade by the rest of the world grew by 5.6 times. Thanks to APEC, GDP in the region increased from $19 trillion in 1989 to $42 trillion in 2015, while per capita income in the region rose by 74 per cent, lifting millions out of poverty and creating a growing middle class.[31]

(November 11): A group of 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the United States under a new name of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP claiming it would hurt US economic interests.[32] This major multinational trade agreement guarantees tariff-free trade between the members, allowing their companies faster and better access to each other markets. The new deal still has to be signed and ratified by each country.

November 16 – Cambodia
Cambodia’s top court dissolves the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), accusing it of conspiring to topple the government and take over power. The ruling also dismisses all CNRP elected officials from their positions and bars them from politics for five years. The critics of the move say the ruling was a crackdown on dissent. The CNRP that was founded in 2012 did well in the 2013 elections and was getting ready to contest the elections next year. By dissolving the only meaningful opposition party, Cambodia’s authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, will run unopposed.[33] Mu Sochua, one of the CNRP’s most popular politicians who fled into exile, has said that the dissolution of the party marks “the end of true democracy in Cambodia.”[34]

November 29 – North Korea 
In defiance of international sanctions, North Korea successfully launches another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-15, which flew higher than missiles previously tested and landed off the northern coast of Japan. The missile reached an altitude of 2,780 miles and flew the distance of 590 miles in 53 minutes. The height is important as missiles at higher altitude can travel longer distances on a lower trajectory. North Korea boasts that the new missile can now reach any part of the continental United States.[35] Defending the launch, North Korea says it is a “responsible nuclear power” and it needs these strategic weapons to defend itself from “the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.[36] (November 30): U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urges all countries to sever relations with North Korea. Russia, however, says that sanctions do not work and encourages diplomatic approach.[37]
North Korea in nine charts



[1] “Philippine police chief apologies for Korean’s murder by officers.” BBC News. 20 January 2017. Web. 6 February 6, 2017.
[2] Gavilan,. Jodesz. “Duterte’s War on Drugs: the First 6 Months.” Rappler. n/d. Web. 6 February 2017.
[3] “Thailand’s king signs constitution that cements junta’s grip.” The Guardian.6 April 2017. Accessed 4 May 2017.
[4] Ibid 3.
[5] Lendon, Brad. “North Korea surprises with display of new missiles.” CNN. 15 April 2017. Accessed 25 April 2017.
[6] “North Korea tensions: US submarine arrives in South Korea.” BBC News. 25 April 2017. Accessed 26 April 2017.
[7] Lavers, Jennifer and Alexander L. Bond. “Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 1 December 2016. Accessed 24 May 2017.
[8] Kwon, K.J., Pamela Boykoff and James Griffiths. “South Korea election: Moon Jae-in declared winner.” CNN. 10 May 2017. Accessed 31 May 2017.
[9] “Kenya opens Nairobi-Mombasa Madaraka Express railway.” BBC News. 31 May 2017. Accessed 1 June 2017.
[10] “Our bulldozers, our rules.” The Economist. 2 July 2016. Accessed 31 May 2017.
[11] “Taiwan severs official ties with Panama.” Taipei Times. 14 June 2017. Accessed 15 June 2017.
[12] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan). Diplomatic Allies. Accessed 14 June 2017.
[13] U.S. Department of State. “Trafficking in Persons Report.” June 2016. Accessed 28 June 2017
[14] U.S. Department of State. “Trafficking in Persons Report.” June 2017. Accessed 27 June 2017.
[15] “North Korea missile launch: Trump berates China on trade.” BBC News. 5 July 2017. Accessed 6 July 2017.
[16] “DPRK People Hail Successful Test-fire of Hwasong-14.” KCNA Watch. 4 July 2017. Accessed 5 July 2017.
[17] The University of Newcastle Australia. “Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872.” The Center for 21st Century Humanities. 2017. Accessed 7 July 2017
[18] The European Commission. “A new EU trade agreement with Japan.” EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. 1 July 2017. Accessed 18 July 2017
[19] Ibid 18.
[20] The United Nations Security Council. “Resolution 2371 (2017).” 5 August 2017. Web. Accessed 30 August 2017 from
[21] Beavers, Olivia. “Trump administration ‘not playing around’ on North Korea.” The Hill. 6 August 2017. Web. Accessed 30 August 2017.
[22] Yonhap News Agency. “N. Korea’s global trade expands but trade gap widens: report.” 5 June 2015. Web. Accessed 30 August 2017 from
[23] “North Korea: ‘Japan missile was first step in Pacific operation’.” BBC News. 30 August 2017. Web. 30 August 2017.
[24] “North Korea nuclear crisis: Putin calls sanctions useless.” BBC News. 5 September 2017. Web. Accessed 6 September 2017.
[25] “Who are the Rohingya and What is Happening in Myanmar?” Amnesty International. 26 September 2017. Web. Accessed 3 October 2017.
[26] “UN human rights chief points to ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar.” UN News Centre. 11 September 2017. Web. Accessed 3 October 2017.
[27] Ibid 25.
[28] “North Korea-US tensions: How worried should you be?” BBC News. 25 September 2017. Web. Accessed 4 October 2017.
[29] Cohen, Zachary. “North Korea accuses Trump of declaring war.” CNN. 25 September 2017. Web. Accessed 4 October 2017.
[30] “Apec summit: Trump and Xi offer competing visions for trade.” BBC News. 10 November 2017. Web. Accessed 27 November 2017.
[31] Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). “About APEC: How Has the Region Benefited?” 2017. Web. Accessed 27 November 2017.
[32] Stevenson, Alexandra and Motoko Rich. “Trans-Pacific Trade Partners Are Moving On, Without the U.S.” The New York Times. 11 November 2017. Web. Accesed 27 November 2017.
[33] “Cambodia top court dissolves main opposition CNRP party.” BBC News. 16 November 2017. Web. Accessed 30 November 2017
[34] “The White House’s much-needed rebuke to a country smothering democracy.” The Washington Post. 18 November 2017. Web. Accessed 7 December 2017.
[35] “North Korea says new missile puts all of US in striking range.” BBC News. 29 November 2017. Web. Accessed 7 December 2017.
[36] Kim, Christine and Phil Stewart. “North Korea says ‘breakthrough’ puts U.S. mainland within range of nuclear weapons.” Reuters. 28 November 2017. Web. Accessed 7 December 2017.
[37] “North Korea: Russia accuses US of goading Kim Jong-un.” BBC News. 30 November 2017. Web. Accessed 7 December 2017.