Top Asian News 8:43 a.m. GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) — No one knew what was in the baggie. It was just a few tablespoons of crystalline powder seized back in April, clumped like snow that had partially melted and frozen again. Emily Dye, a 27-year-old forensic chemist at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory, did not know if anyone had died from taking this powder, or how much it would take to kill you. What she did know was this: New drugs were appearing in the lab every other week, things never before seen in this unmarked gray building in Sterling, Virginia. Increasingly, these new compounds were synthetic opioids designed to mimic fentanyl, a prescription painkiller up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A tiny young woman crouches just outside the airport, crying softly into her thin shawl. It’s cold out, but her sleeping toddler is heavy and warm in her arms. Travelers swarm around: Himalayan trekkers load up expedition backpacks. A Chinese tour group boards a bus. A dozen flight attendants in crisp blue suits and heels click by. Saro Kumari Mandal, 26, covers her head completely, a bundle of grief. Hundreds of young Nepali men excitedly wave final goodbyes to friends and family. On this day 1,500 will fly out of the Kathmandu airport bound for jobs mostly in Malaysia, Qatar or Saudi Arabia — jobs that are urgently needed by the people of this desperately poor country.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Christmas is approaching and pilgrims and tourists have begun to arrive, crowding the souvenir shops that line the narrow streets and alleys of Bethlehem, the biblical town revered as Jesus’ birthplace. But when visitors choose to take a piece of the Holy Land back home with them, they better check the labels. Many souvenirs — including the West Bank town’s trademark rosary beads — are imported from abroad, mainly China. A small number of souvenir shops are now trying to fight the trend, stocking their shelves almost exclusively with locally made products. Shopkeepers say that while their wares may be more expensive, the quality is much better and they give an important boost to the struggling economy.
BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan on Wednesday condemned the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe’s “abrupt” move to break their diplomatic ties, while rival China welcomed the defection of one of the self-governing island’s small number of allies. Just 21 countries and governments now have official ties with Taiwan. Most of the world and the United Nations do not formally recognize the island as a condition of maintaining relations with China, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory. Beijing and Taipei have competed for allies for much of the nearly seven decades since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait.
TANGERANG, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police said three suspected militants who were planning a holiday season suicide bombing were killed in a raid Wednesday on the outskirts of Jakarta in the second imminent attack to be foiled in less than two weeks. A residential neighborhood was evacuated after five bombs were found in a house used by the men. Police said they had defused three bombs so far and described them as low explosive and made from potassium nitrate. The men planned to stage their attack on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, Jakarta police chief Mochamad Iriawan said in a television interview.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese weather forecasters and state media say the dense, gray smog that has smothered much of China, closing schools and grounding planes, may finally soon give way. The national weather authority said Wednesday that nighttime winds will push out much of the air pollution that has left Beijing and dozens of other cities under a five-day “red alert,” the highest level in China’s four-tiered warning system. By the calculations of Greenpeace East Asia, the red alert affects 460 million people. Authorities have closed schools, grounded hundreds of flights and announced emergency shutdowns of factories and highways. Still, Beijing’s air pollution readings on Wednesday remained 15 times above the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — James Taylor has canceled his February concert in Manila, saying reports of summary executions of suspected drug offenders in the Philippines without judicial proceedings are “deeply concerning and unacceptable.” The American singer-songwriter tweeted Wednesday that he had been looking forward to performing in Manila and that it saddened him to cancel the concert. He apologized to his Filipino fans and said all tickets sold for the Feb. 25 performance at Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena would be fully refunded. Taylor said his scheduled concerts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand would not be affected. Since taking office in June, President Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a crackdown on illegal drugs that has left more than 6,000 people dead, alarming Western governments and human rights watchdogs.
SYDNEY (AP) — Ten Chinese nationals were charged on Tuesday with drug smuggling in Australia after officials said they found a stash of cocaine worth more than 60 million Australian dollars ($44 million) on their ship. Last week, the Australian Defense Force intercepted the 50-meter (160-foot) former research vessel off the island state of Tasmania, and escorted the boat to the state capital, Hobart. During a subsequent search, police found 186 kilograms (410 pounds) of cocaine on board, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement. The 10 crew members, all men aged between 23 and 50, were charged with attempting to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.
TOKYO (AP) — Japan formally approved a plan Wednesday to scrap an experimental fast-breeder nuclear reactor that drained government finances for decades without living up to hopes it would be a savior for the resource-poor country’s energy needs. Government ministers decided to decommission the trouble-plagued “Monju” reactor. It has cost Japan about 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) while operating only 250 days since it started up 22 years ago. The so-called “dream reactor” was designed to burn a plutonium-uranium mix, while potentially producing more plutonium in the process that could be converted into more nuclear fuel. The reactor suffered a leakage of sodium, used as coolant, in 1995, months after it went online, a major accident that caused its initial yearslong suspension before more recent safety problems.
SYDNEY (AP) — For two years, a handful of ships have diligently combed a remote patch of the Indian Ocean west of Australia in a $160 million bid to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. On Tuesday, investigators made what was surely a painful admission: They have probably been looking in the wrong place. The latest analysis by a team of international investigators concluded the vanished Boeing 777 is highly unlikely to be in the current search zone and may instead be in a region farther north. But though crews are expected to finish their deep-sea sonar hunt of the current search area next month, the possibility of extending the search to the north appeared doubtful, with Australia’s transport minister suggesting the analysis wasn’t specific enough to justify continuing the hunt.