TIME Education

Think You Can Cheat on the SAT? The College Board Says Think Again

Security measures include air gaps, fake test takers, alarm doors, photo verification and handwriting samples

The SAT is never uploaded to the Internet. Test questions are never emailed. And even the computers that test creators use to write and edit the questions are never, ever connected to the web.

“The idea is that you can’t hack something that isn’t there,” said Ray Nicosia, the director of the Office of Testing Integrity at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which oversees the security of the College Board’s SAT and SAT II subject area tests. Every year, those tests are administered at 25,000 test centers in 192 countries around the world.

Earlier this week, the College Board sent emails to all students living in China or Korea who had taken the SAT on October 11, informing them that their test scores would be reviewed and delayed for up to a month because of allegations of widespread cheating. It’s the latest in a long line of alleged and full-blown cheating scandals in the last few years that have involved not only the SATs, but nearly every other widely-administered standardized test, including Advance Placement tests, the ACTs, and English language qualifying exams.

“They’re always going to be people trying to challenge the system,” Nicosia said. “We stop a lot but there’s always someone trying new a way.” The advent of cell phones, tiny cameras and nearly undetectable recording devices, for example, has required his team to up their game, he said.

A quick search on YouTube reveals dozens of innovative cheating ideas, like scanning answers onto soft drink wrappers or printing formulas onto fabric, each complete with instructions on how to pull it off. One company sells an eraser that doubles as a microphone, designed to help sneaky individuals communicate with “helpers” up to 3,000 feet away.

In 2007, two students in China used tiny, wireless listening devices in their ear canals to cheat on an English exam; they were later hospitalized when the devices got stuck, according to China Daily. But, Nicosia said, those “James Bond tactics” are not as common as other, more run-of-the-mill cheating gambits. For example, in 2011, twenty students were arrested on Long Island, New York, for hiring other students—for a cool $3,600 bucks—to impersonate them in the SAT exam room.

Nicosia would not speak specifically about the allegations of cheating in the Oct. 11 test. But early speculation has focused on the possibility that the same test administered overseas on Oct. 11 had been administered previously in the U.S. ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing confirmed that ETS does reuse tests in different locations, though he would not comment on the Oct. 11 test.

Parke Muth, who volunteers as a consultant and advisor to Chinese students said he’s heard that test preparation companies will offer to pay test takers to memorize a half-dozen or so questions from a given test and write them down after they’ve left the testing area. “They do that a hundred times and they have the full test,” Muth said. He said he also heard allegations of students ripping out individual pages of a test booklet and smuggling it out of the test center.

Ewing didn’t seem too surprised by these suggestions. “The costs of test security have been steadily escalating over the years and ETS spends literally millions and millions of dollars in this area,” he said, adding that the Office of Testing Integrity, which Ray Nicosia has overseen since the mid-‘90s, has grown substantially. It now monitors every stage in the SAT and SAT II test-making and test-taking process—from the moment questions are written to the moment that students sit down to take the exam.

It’s a big job, made slightly easier by the fact that, unlike the ACT, which can now be taken on a computer in some locations, neither the SAT or the SAT II is available on any computer or digital device. Those exams must be taken instead with a good old-fashioned pencil and a paper booklet.

Still, Nicosia said, his oversight process doesn’t cut any corners. It begins in the College Board’s secure offices, which are patrolled by security guards who monitor suspicious vehicles in the area. Employees dealing directly with the test questions are required to use computers that are not, and never have been, connected to the Internet, and no part of the test, perhaps needless to say, is ever stored on the cloud. Test writers themselves are subject to background and criminal checks, and can have their briefcases and bags searched upon exiting the building to ensure that they are not transporting a thumb drive or other device containing information about the test’s content.

Once the test is written, it is moved in “a secure carrier,” Nicosia said, declining to elaborate, to a print shop that uses security protocols similar to companies that print casino vouchers, which can be exchanged for cash. “All our printers have alarm doors and security cameras and whole list of other things we mandate,” Nicosia said. “You don’t have a print shop employee just walking outside for a cigarette break.” At the end of the printing process, the SAT test booklets are “packaged in a certain way” so that tampering with the booklets themselves is either impossible or immediately obvious, he said.

From there, the test booklets are delivered to pre-vetted test administrators and school principals, who have gone thorough an ETS training and who must, in turn, provide ETS with assurance that the tests will be kept in a locked and secured location. In some instances, ETS has arranged to have the test booklets hand-delivered by a ETS employee on the day of the test.

On test day, a host of precautions are also in place. For example, ETS requires test takers to upload a photo of themselves when they register for the exam and then provide on test day a photo ID that matches both their registration photograph and their appearance. Test takers are also required to provide a handwriting sample that can be used should any subsequent investigation be necessary.

In most locations, ETS does not search students for cell phones or other digital devices, but if a proctor sees or hears a digital device, the student is immediately dismissed from the test, his scores are canceled, and a review is launched. In areas where cheating is suspected, ETS also sometimes deploys undercover investigators—employees in their late teens or early twenties who pretend to be test-takers—in order to “get the birds’ eye view of what’s going on without raising any eyebrows,” Nicosia said. At the end of tests, students are required to leave all testing materials behind.

All told, while the extent of cheating efforts is probably “extremely overblown in people’s imaginations,” Nicosia said his team takes every tip, allegation or rumor “very, very seriously.” “Whatever challenge is next, we’re looking for it,” he said.

TIME indonesia

New Indonesian President Jokowi Talks Tough With Fading Power Australia

Indonesia's new President Widodo shouts "Merdeka" or Freedom at the end of his speech, during his inauguration in Jakarta
Indonesia's new President Joko Widodo shouts "Merdeka," meaning freedom, at the end of his speech, during his inauguration at the parliament's building in Jakarta on Oct. 20, 2014 Darren Whiteside—Reuters

Indonesia's newfound chest-thumping may simply be a fledgling administration's efforts to win domestic approval, but is nonetheless indicative of shifting powers in the region

Two days before his Oct. 20 inauguration, new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, gave Australia a stern warning not to test the territorial sovereignty of the world’s largest archipelago.

“We will give a warning that this is not acceptable,” Jokowi, as he is widely known, told Fairfax Media in reference to half a dozen incursions into Indonesian waters last year by Australian navy ships turning back boats full of predominantly Middle Eastern asylum seekers. “We have international law, you must respect international law.”

Bolstering Jokowi’s message, Indonesia’s new Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi — the first ever female in the role — confirmed on Wednesday a departure from former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s principle of “thousand friends, zero enemies” to national interests first.

“To uphold our political sovereignty, what we must do is preserve the sovereignty of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia,” Retno said at her first press conference. “We’ll do this firmly and clearly.”

The interception one day earlier of a Singaporean passenger aircraft over a well-traveled flight path that cuts through Indonesian airspace may be indicative of Jakarta’s new hard-line stance. Indonesian fighter jets forced the aircraft to land and pay a $4,900 fine — despite protestation from the Singaporean owner, ST Aerospace, that it had been using the route for a number of years without the need for prior clearance from Indonesia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

However, these messages must be read within the context of Indonesia’s time-honored political melodrama, where tough talk against meddling foreign powers is par for the course. It’s also an easy and predictable way for new administration to score political points on the home front. “I think Jokowi’s warning to Australia was made for domestic consumption rather that advocating a nationalistic tone in foreign policy,” says Philips Vermonte, head of international relations at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

Indeed, Jokowi’s apparent double standards when dealing with Chinese incursions in the fish- and gas-rich waters of the Natuna Islands, on the northwest coast of Indonesian Borneo, seems to demonstrate diplomatic nuance rather than a new era of nationalistic fervor.

As recently as March 2013, armed Chinese ships bullied Indonesian patrol boats into releasing Chinese fisherman caught trawling illegally near Natuna. China has also included parts of the waters around Natuna within its so-called nine-dash line — its vague southern maritime boundary, adding Indonesia to the long list of countries it’s dueling with over aggressive claims to some 90% of the South China Sea.

In April, Indonesia’s armed-forces chief General Moeldoko penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal promising to strengthen Indonesian forces on Natuna and prepare fighter jets to meet “any eventuality.”

But two months later, during a presidential-election debate in June, Jokowi claimed Indonesia had no beef with China. In later interviews he adroitly turned the burning strategic problem with China on its head, suggesting Indonesia could serve as an “honest broker” vis-a-vis the Middle Kingdom’s disputes with other countries in the South China Sea.

This should not, however, be understood to mean the new Indonesian administration will be pushovers. Its soft stance on overlapping territorial claims with China is obviously linked to the fact that China is Indonesia’s second largest export trading partner. Australia, meanwhile, barely makes the top 10.

The lesson, it seems, more concerns shifting regional power than newfound Indonesian belligerence. “Australia needs to understand that Indonesia’s place in the world is growing, while it is not,”
 adds Professor Tim Lindsey, director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne Law School. By current estimates, he adds, Indonesia will have world’s seventh largest economy in around a decade and the fifth largest by 2050. “Australia’s current policies of turning back the boats doesn’t seem to factor in any of that at all,” says Lindsey.

“I think Australia would be advised to take [Jokowi’s latest about naval incursions] warning very seriously, and that it would be unwise to look at it in narrow terms by saying, ‘Their navy is very small so it’s not a valid threat,’” opines Antje Missbach, a research fellow at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences in Melbourne. “There are many ways Indonesia could make a point without involving its navy.”

Moreover, she adds, “Look what happened last time Australia offended them,” referring to when Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Australia for six months following revelations by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden that Australia had spied on Yudhoyono and his wife.

Speaking to TIME, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says, “It is not the government’s policy to incur Indonesia’s waters” and blames past incursions on the opposition government it replaced following the September 2013 general elections. “[We're] working closely with the new government of Indonesia on people-smuggling issues and we are optimistic about initial responses,” Morrison says.

Optimism is one thing; keeping out of your neighbor’s backyard is another altogether.

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

Read next: Australia’s Top ISIS Militant Killed: Sources

TIME China

11 Arrested in China for Digging Up and Selling Women’s Corpses as Brides

The bodies are sold to families of dead bachelors for as much as $3,000, as part of an age-old custom called a ghost marriage

The words “till death do us part” don’t really apply in this case. Quite the opposite, actually.

Chinese authorities have arrested 11 people in the eastern province of Shandong for digging up bodies of dead women to be sold as “ghost brides,” the South China Morning Post reports. The custom of ghost marriage, still practiced in many parts of rural China, involves burying a woman next to an unmarried man who has recently died so he may have a companion in the afterlife.

The arrested men in this case reportedly excavated a Shandong woman’s body from her grave in March, selling it to a middleman for the equivalent of nearly $3,000. The main suspect, surnamed Wang, said in an interview that the value of the bodies went up if they were exhumed and sold closer to death, using the example of a woman disinterred three months after her passing.

“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died, like this one, are valuable,” Wang said.

Stealing corpses is a criminal offense in China, which can result in up to three years in prison if convicted.

[SCMP]

TIME China

Chinese and South Korean SAT Students Face Nervous Wait After Scores Delayed

Though disappointed, students and teachers expressed confidence that the incident wouldn't hurt chances at schools

College hopefuls in China and South Korea are frustrated but bearing up after the company that runs the SAT announced it would withhold scores for all students in the two countries who took a recent test, amid an alleged cheating scandal. The delay could hold up scores until after the Nov. 1 deadline to apply for “early decision” at U.S. colleges and universities.

“A rat spoiled a pot of soup, Chinese’s reputation is ruined by these scum,” wrote one user of China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo.

Others expressed incredulity with the need to cheat: “For most Chinese students the SAT is a piece of cake. Even you fail this time, you can try later. There are multiple opportunities in a year, there is no need to cheat.”

According to Grace Wong, executive director at the Princeton Review’s Hong Kong and Shanghai division, which runs SAT prep courses for students in both cities, her students are not too concerned at the moment.

“I think they only have to worry if they are actually implicated in the cheating scandal,” says Wong, who has fielded calls from students wondering if the delay will affect their admission chances. “Then there will be a problem.”

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has said that it is not releasing exam results for all students living in China and South Korea who took the test on Oct. 11 until it concludes an investigation into “specific, reliable information” alleging cheating. The delay comes just days before the Nov. 1 deadline for “early decision” at U.S. schools.

Students writing on College Confidential, a message board for college hopefuls, on Tuesday night at first expressed confusion that their scores were marked as “available” yet no score was listed. The mood turned to alarm when one student posted an email from the College Board, which oversees the ETS, warning of “additional quality control steps before scores are released” that may take up to four weeks.

Wong says most students who are applying early decision to U.S. schools already have SAT scores from past tests, though they might have been hoping to get higher marks on the Oct. 11 test.

Indeed, for one student writing on the message board, three weeks was too long to wait — the application was due that night, and the student had been hoping to send in better scores than those on previous tests.

“My school in Korea is requiring me to send in my common app by tonight (midnight) but I am 100% sure that my score improved from my 2 previous tests and I want my best scores to be on my common app,” the student wrote. “But my counselor says waiting another day will be risky — what should I do???”

ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing told TIME on Wednesday that “universities generally do their best to accommodate late scores from students when there are extenuating circumstances.” He added that ETS “will make universities aware of the circumstances and can supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying.”

Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, also told TIME that “the administrative delay will not hurt the chance of admission for an individual applicant.”

Hamilton Gregg, a counselor at Harrow International School in Beijing, said he was working with students to evaluate their prospects at early admission to their favorite school with their current SAT score. He said many students would apply as normal on Nov. 1 but some might now apply regular decision, given unalleviated concerns that colleges might not accept the late scores, even if higher than older scores.

“It’s really up to the school if they’ll wait the three or four weeks,” says Gregg, who also runs a private college-admissions-counseling business in Beijing. “Some schools could just say, No, too bad, sorry for you. But I’m trying to be an optimist and say, O.K., this is such a big issue, the schools will understand and wait.”

Meanwhile, though Gregg’s students are upset, “they understand why someone would have cheated,” he says, adding that while he is confident none of his own students were involved, they know all too well why someone would have done so: the pressure to succeed can be unbearable.

“Students here feel like, If I don’t get into an Ivy League school, I’m basically useless,” he says. “American students and their parents of course go through the same thing, but it’s magnified in China. There are a billion and a half people here. SAT scores keep going up and up.”

This isn’t first time that South Korea and China have been blistered with an ETS cheating scandal. In May 2013, the company canceled an SAT exam for about 1,500 students in South Korea over allegations of skulduggery. In 2001, the ETS also won a lawsuit in China against test-prep juggernaut New Oriental over its publications of full copies of old tests.

Nevertheless, Gregg is incensed by the latest scandal. “Someone is so selfish that they put tens of thousands of students’ futures in jeopardy,” he says.

Some students on College Confidential held the College Board responsible. “Most of us are innocent,” wrote a “Chinese test taker” who “took the test in Nepal” on Oct. 11. “How could test materials be reached? Isn’t it because of [the College Board's] own leak in security?”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME China

The Chinese President’s Love Affair With Confucius Could Backfire on Him

China's Vice President Xi Jinping points at the bust of Confucius in China pavilion of Frankfurt book fair
Xi Jinping, now Chinese President, points at a bust of Confucius in the China pavilion of Frankfurt Book Fair he attended while still serving as Vice President on Oct. 13, 2009 Boris Roessler—Reuters

Xi Jinping is turning to China’s ancient philosopher to reshape the country’s political future. But that strategy is riskier than he seems to believe

Ever since China’s President, Xi Jinping, first began to claim the reins of power in Beijing nearly two years ago, China watchers have speculated on where he would take the budding superpower. Initially, it was widely held that Xi was more of a folksy, “man of the people” than his aloof and expressionless predecessor, Hu Jintao, and that he would be a bolder, more liberal reformer.

So far, though, those assumptions have proved off the mark. He has cracked down severely on social media and dissent, with the apparent aim of strengthening the Communist Party’s grip on society. On the economic front, he announced a sweeping program of liberalization, but hasn’t yet implemented it, and the hand of the state rests as heavily on business as before. That has left China analysts grasping at oracle bones to decipher Xi’s vision for China’s political future.

However, a picture of Xi’s agenda is beginning to emerge through the usual haze of secrecy surrounding communist leaders, and it features a man who lived 2,500 years ago: Confucius, the most influential of history’s Chinese philosophers. Simply, Xi is turning to China’s glorious past to provide an ideological foundation to his 21st century rule.

Though Xi has also invoked other figures from Chinese history — from philosophers of competing schools to more modern personalities like Mao Zedong — the President seems to take special interest in Confucianism. “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire,” he said in a September speech, quoting one of Confucius’s most-famous sayings. Earlier in the year, he extolled the wonders of benevolent rule in an address to party cadres with another, well-known passage from the Analects, the most authoritative text on Confucius’s teachings: “The rule of virtue can be compared to the polestar which commands the homage of the multitude of stars without leaving its place.” Last year, Xi, like so many Emperors of old, visited Qufu, Confucius’ hometown. During his tour, he pledged to read Confucian texts and praised the continuing value of Chinese traditional culture.

There is, of course, great irony here. For the first 30 years of communist rule in China, the party of Mao Zedong had tried to uproot Confucian influence from society, seeing the enduring legacy of Confucius as an impediment to socialism and modernization. During the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao in the mid-1960s, Red Guards rampaged through Qufu, smashing relics and defacing the old Confucian temple. In communist propaganda, Confucius was vilified as a feudal leftover responsible for the oppression of the common man.

Since the early days of reform in the 1980s, however, the party’s leaders have been (slowly) resurrecting Confucius and his ideas. Beijing’s successful program to introduce capitalism — or what it prefers to call “socialism with Chinese characteristics” — made the government’s Marxist rhetoric sound especially hollow, leaving the communists to return to Confucius instead.

The sage’s ideas about harmony and deference to authority, they believe, offer an authentic Chinese doctrine that can support the political status quo (and deflect Western ideals of liberal democracy). Much like the imperial emperors did for centuries on end, China’s new communist leaders are attempting to cloak themselves in Confucian principles to lend credibility to their tightfisted tendencies.

Xi seems to be taking this effort to a whole new level. He appears to be employing Confucius as part of a broader program to remake the Communist Party and realign the power structure within it.

For instance, Xi apparently believes a dose of Confucian morality will aid stamping out official graft. Over the past year, Xi has launched an aggressive campaign against government corruption, likely engineered to both eliminate political enemies and clean up an out-of-control bureaucracy that had lost the trust of the populace. A high-level Communist Party conference in October pledged to strengthen the independence of the judicial system to improve rule of law.

Confucius is part of Xi’s reform team. For 2,000 years, Confucius’s doctrine laid down the code of ethics for proper behavior in China — the way of the gentleman — and now Xi seems to be trying to recreate those Confucian standards through persistent exhortation.

Xi also apparently believes that Confucius can bolster his own standing in the country. Confucius’ ideal government was topped by a “sage-king” — a person who was so learned, benevolent and upright that his virtuous rule would bring peace and order to society and uplift the Chinese masses both spiritually and materially. Confucius made little progress in achieving this vision during his own lifetime. But Xi seems to be resurrecting the idea. Since becoming President, he has been whittling away at the government by committee that had prevailed for two decades, in the process centralizing more power in his hands than any communist leader since Mao. By combining one-man rule with the morality of Chinese antiquity, he appears to be painting himself up as some newfangled communist/Confucian sage-king — an all-commanding figure who will usher in a new epoch of prestige and prosperity.

But resurrecting Confucius remains a big risk. Confucius held his sage-king to the strictest principles of virtue and righteousness. The true sage-king was so benevolent that laws and jails would become unnecessary — the people would willingly follow his lead. By quoting and honoring Confucius, Xi is also potentially holding himself to the sage’s unobtainable moral precepts. Simply, the higher the Confucian pedestal on which Xi places himself, the farther he has to fall.

Nor does Xi seem willing to implement other aspects of Confucian government. Kings were not supposed to be autocrats in his teachings. Ministers and other officials were bound by duty to protest policies they considered misguided to keep the Emperor on the proper path. Government was not to tread heavily into the lives of ordinary people. Kings may have had ultimate authority, but not unlimited power. Xi, however, doesn’t appear interested in easing the repressive machinery of the state, nor accepting any challenges to or limitations on his authority.

It appears, then, that Xi really wants to create not sagely Confucian rule but “authoritarianism with Chinese characteristics.” Confucius, if he were alive today, would not approve.

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Education

Allegations of Mass SAT Cheating Delay Test Scores in China and South Korea

Students in China and South Korea who took the SAT on Oct. 11 will have their test scores delayed

All students living in China and South Korea who took the SAT on Oct. 11 will have their test scores delayed and reviewed because of allegations of widespread cheating, officials from the College Board and its global test administration and security provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS), tell TIME.

The allegations of cheating, which are “based on specific, reliable information,” according to the officials, could be held up for as many as four weeks, potentially excluding some students for “early decision” or “early action” admissions to U.S. colleges and universities. Each individual test score will be evaluated for evidence of cheating.

“The College Board will make universities aware of the circumstances and can supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying,” ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing tells TIME. “Students should contact their preferred schools for more information.”

“Universities generally do their best to accommodate late scores from students when there are extenuating circumstances,” Ewing adds. Even if test scores are delivered in November, they will be reported as October scores, he says.

Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, confirms that “the administrative delay will not hurt the chance of admission for an individual applicant, since any scores that arrive before our review process is complete will be considered.” He adds that students from countries like China where there are no SAT test centers available are not required to submit SAT scores.

The College Board has faced cheating scandals in the past, although this appears to be the first time “reliable allegations” have affected more than one entire country at the same time. “We have conducted administrative reviews in a number of countries over the years including the United States when we want to assure that no student gained an unfair advantage over students who tested honestly,” Ewing says.

In May 2013, the College Board canceled a scheduled exam in South Korea because of allegations of widespread cheating, affecting an estimated 1,500 students. That was the first time allegations of cheating affected an entire country.

Students from China, India and South Korea now make up roughly 50% of the total number of international students in the U.S., according to a 2013 Institute of International Education report. The number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has increased by 20% every year since 2008, reaching nearly 200,000 in late 2012.

Under current rules, Chinese students without foreign passports must travel outside of mainland China to take admissions tests for U.S. universities. “Chinese national students interested in taking the SAT are welcome to take it in SAT testing centers in Hong Kong, Macao or any other country such as Taiwan or Korea, among others,” the College Board website reads. Those with foreign passports can take the test in China at international schools.

“The scores under question are for Chinese test takers who tested outside of China (not Hong Kong) and NOT for those taken at the international schools in China,” Ewing says in an email.

“Based on specific, reliable information, we have placed the scores of all students who are current residents of Korea or China and sat for the October 11th international administration of the SAT on hold while we conduct an administrative review,” according to a statement from the College Board and ETS released Wednesday to TIME. “The review is being conducted to ensure that illegal actions by individuals or organizations do not prevent the majority of test-takers who have worked hard to prepare for the exam from receiving valid and accurate scores.”

The College Board sent emails this week to all students affected by this round of allegations of cheating. “Dear Test Taker: We at ETS are highly committed to quality standards and fairness,” the email reads. “After every test administration, we go to great lengths to make sure each test result we report is accurate and valid. It is with this objective in mind that we sometimes take additional quality control steps before scores are released. For the reasons stated above, your October 2014 SAT scores are delayed because they are under administrative review.”

The email ends by denouncing “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit” and asks that individuals share any information with the College Board that could help in the investigation. “We take action on all credible information and go to great lengths to ensure each test result we report is accurate and valid,” the email says.

— With reporting by Tessa Berenson

Read next: This Is How the New SAT Will Test Vocabulary

TIME Vietnam

Risking China’s Ire, India Signs Defense and Oil Deals With Vietnam

Vietnam's PM Dung waves next to his Indian counterpart Modi at the forecourt of India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung waves next to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during Dung's ceremonial reception at the forecourt of India's presidential palace in New Delhi on Oct. 28, 2014 Adnan Abidi—Reuters

The agreements were signed during a visit to India by the Vietnamese Prime Minister

On Tuesday, India pledged to supply naval vessels to Vietnam and also secured oil exploration rights from Hanoi in parts of the contentious South China Sea, in moves that promise to ruffle a few feathers in Beijing.

The announcement came during Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s two-day visit to India, during which his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi pledged to “quickly operationalize” the $100 million line of credit established during Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Hanoi in September.

Along with an expedited sale of four offshore patrol ships, India will also take up enhanced training programs for the Vietnamese military, according to the Economic Times.

The agreements come at a time when the Vietnam, along with several other Southeast Asian nations, is locked in territorial disputes with Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“Everybody’s worried about what China’s going to do next,” says A.B. Mahapatra, director of New Delhi–based think tank the Centre for Asian and Strategic Studies–India. “That is a common concern between [India and Vietnam] now, because all through history they never thought that they should expand their trade relationship or their defense relationship.”

Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, reasserted Beijing’s claim to the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, but said it would not object to any joint exploration by India and Vietnam in undisputed waters.

“But if such cooperation harms China’s sovereignty and interests, we will resolutely oppose it,” he said.

Both Vietnam and India are growing closer to China economically, and a recent visit to New Delhi by Chinese President Xi Jinping yielded agreements worth billions of dollars.

But Mahapatra points out that neither Indian nor Vietnamese economic dependence on China precludes territorial conflict, and assumptions that Beijing would not destabilize a region in which it has economic interests have proved wrong time and again.

“[India and Vietnam] realize that if they don’t encounter China now, they will lose [the territory] forever,” he says.

TIME Asia

Learning From Past Viral Epidemics, Asia Readies for Possible Ebola Outbreak

Philippines Ebola
Government health workers practice wearing Ebola protective suits on the first day of training on hospital management for Ebola virus at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in the Philippine city of Muntinlupa on Oct. 28, 2014 Bullit Marquez—AP

Recent experiences with SARS and bird flu make Asian nations especially skittish when faced with the possibility of an Ebola outbreak

As Ebola continues to play global hopscotch, Asian countries are seeking to make good on the advanced notice that the deadly virus could turn up anywhere, anytime.

At issue in Asia — and everywhere — is not just that medical scaffolding varies across and within nations, with some lacking robust medical facilities, but that even sophisticated cities boasting top-notch hospitals are foundering. The infections of two health care workers in Dallas, as well as a nurse in Madrid, have illustrated that even highly developed nations are not immune.

“Perceived preparedness and actual preparedness are not the same thing,” says Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center.

“We thought the U.S. would be well prepared, but certainly our first case [in Dallas] was not a good model for replication, and I don’t think Spain did too well either,” explains Morse. “But that’s what happens when you haven’t seen this before. You don’t know what to do.”

Still, Asia has some advantages as it readies itself for Ebola. Flight patterns suggest that the influx of travelers from Ebola-stricken West African countries to the Asian continent is far less than it is to Africa, Europe or North America.

Asian nations also have an edge in that they have been through epidemics before: SARS tore through the West Pacific in 2003, killing almost 800 people worldwide, mostly in Hong Kong and mainland China. Avian flu also pummeled this area around the same time, and outbreaks of virulent influenza strains perennially menace the region.

“The most likely scenario, if we have an imported case of Ebola, is that there will be some risk of having secondary cases, but I don’t think we will have a big outbreak at this point in time,” says Hitoshi Oshitani, professor of virology at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan.

In part, that’s because Ebola is much more straightforward to contain than the airborne SARS — spread through coughing and sneezing — if procedures are followed rigorously, says Oshitani, who from 1999 to 2005 was the regional adviser for communicable-disease surveillance and response at the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office during the SARS and avian-flu outbreaks. When SARS first appeared “we didn’t know what to do at first,” he says.

But having weathered these outbreaks now makes Asian nations stronger. “After SARS and Avian flu, Asian countries have invested quite a lot in infectious disease control,” says Oshitani. “Before 2003, many countries in Asia had very limited capacity, and today they have much more capacity.”

That said, much depends on where across Asia’s socioeconomic smorgasbord a hypothetical Ebola case makes landfall.

For example, Hong Kong, blistered by the memory of SARS, has made significant preparations, says Malik Peiris, director of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “Infectious diseases, especially diseases coming from the outside, have been a constant threat to Hong Kong and have kept people on their toes,” he says.

Hong Kong, which had just “a handful” of isolation beds in 2003, now has about 1,400, plus a designated infectious disease hospital, says Peiris. At that hospital, he adds, the facilities are “more than adequate to deal with SARS and certainly more than adequate to deal with Ebola.”

Preparing for Ebola is also foremost on health officials’ agendas in mainland China, Peiris says, while noting that health care is uneven across the world’s most populous nation, with world-class hospitals in major cities but spotty health care in rural areas. Dense populations and an incubation period of up to 21 days make Ebola potentially extremely problematic.

Chinese officials told state media in August that security at the airport in China’s southern Guangdong province, which does roaring business with African traders, had been bolstered.

India also presents a problem. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who co-discovered Ebola, told the Guardian earlier this month that Ebola outbreaks in Europe or North America could quickly be brought under control. However, “I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in West Africa,” he said.

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told Parliament in August that some 4,700 Indians are working in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. India is using thermal scanners at its airports similar to those used at Nigeria, which was declared Ebola-free earlier this month. The country has also designated hospitals for handling the virus, and has also held preparedness drills, though a paltry ratio of 0.07 hospital beds per person does not bode well for any significant outbreak.

“The big problem is in high-density populations with low health coverage,” says Peiris. “In Mumbai, you have areas of quite significant poverty, and if Ebola enters such a situation, you could have a problem on your hands. Major cities really need to be prepared.”

The Philippines, boasting an estimated 1,700 nationals working in West Africa, is also bolstering readiness. Lyndon Lee Suy, spokesman at the Philippines Department of Health, says that three hospitals are designated to handle any Ebola cases, plus a training workshop is being run at 19 government hospitals, about 50 private hospitals and numerous local government clinics. All hospitals in the Philippines, which battled SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009, have isolation rooms, he says.

“No country can ever rate how prepared it is for something like this,” says Lee Suy. “But the health system here is not the same as the one in West Africa. We are in a better position.”

Even Asian countries that have no direct flights to West Africa, and have limited ties to the region, are wary of being caught off guard.

Krishna Kumar, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, says his country was jolted by the Nipah virus in 1999, which killed more than 100 people nationwide, and has learned “hard but important lessons.”

“We weren’t expecting it,” he says. “It woke us up.”

Krishna says public alarm is low in Malaysia, but health officials are yet mindful “anything could happen.” All airports have thermal checks, and 28 government hospitals have isolation rooms and are fully equipped with protective gear.

“We have the systems in place,” he says, “but to know how ready you are — well, it’s only when something happens, then you know if you were ready.”

TIME

This Ridiculously Romantic Ad Aims to End Divorce

A Chinese shampoo commercial doubles as a pitch for couples to stay together

In today’s overly ambitious advertising era, a shampoo ad that merely touts its ability to combat split ends is severely lacking. Rather, haircare marketers must also aim to end sexism in the workplace and, according to a new Chinese spot, divorce.

Leo Burnett Hong Kong created a commercial for Procter & Gamble’s Rejoice shampoo that acts as a marriage counselor. The four-and-a-half minute long ad, which the ad agency claims has been viewed 40 million times in a month, follows a couple on the brink of divorce. But the wife (who, if we may, has some great hair going on) will only sign the papers under one condition: Her husband must agree to hug her every day for a month.

Thus begins a rom-com (minus the com) in which the wife makes her husband travel to different landmarks from their relationship — where he proposed, where they shared a first kiss, where they met — and asks for that hug. While there are no scenes of hair-washing prior to their encounters, things escalate on the husband’s end from wistful hair stroking to full-on hair smelling.

You can probably guess how things end. (Hint: The official hashtag for the campaign is #IBelieveInLoveAgain).

The spot is cinematographically beautiful and acts public service announcement of sorts. Rejoice claims that of 3 million Chinese couples who divorced last year, 100,000 reconciled.

We wonder if any of them had stringy hair.

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