TIME Taiwan

TransAsia Crash Death Toll Reaches 32 With 11 Passengers Still Missing

TransAsia Airways Plane Crashes In Taipei
Ashley Pon—Getty Images Rescuers check the wreckage of the TransAsia ATR 72-600 on the Keelung river at New Taipei City on Feb. 4, 2015

Experts suspect a "flameout" in one of the engines may have been to blame

Taiwanese search-and-rescue teams continued to search for 11 missing passengers from a TransAsia flight that crashed in Taipei on Wednesday morning, as the confirmed death toll from the disaster reached 32.

Flight 235 went down soon after takeoff after banking hard to the left, clipping a taxi driving on an overpass and slamming into Taipei’s Keelung River. Local broadcasters have released a recording of an unidentified crew member uttering “Mayday” three times before losing contact with the control tower.

Speculation as to why the plane ditched has revolved around the possible failure of the aircraft’s left engine that appeared to be malfunctioning in footage posted online.

“Before it hit the taxi, it made a hard left bank that’s indicative usually of the pilot trying to either avoid something or an uncontrolled event,” Mike Daniel, an international aviation-safety consultant based in Singapore, tells TIME.

However, authorities have refrained from commenting on possible causes until the official investigation concludes. On Wednesday, rescue teams successfully recovered the plane’s flight recorders and pulled its fuselage from the Keelung River after nightfall.

At least 32 people were killed during the crash. Fifteen passengers survived with injuries.

“I’m simply amazed that there were survivors,” says Daniel. “It actually speaks well to the construction of the aircraft to have survivors after that type of impact — not only after hitting the bridge but also cartwheeling into the water.”

TransAsia representatives said the ATR-72 turboprop had been in service for less than a year; however, after being delivered, one of the engines was immediately replaced after functioning improperly, reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Actually, this aircraft in the accident was the newest model. It hadn’t been used for even a year,” Peter Chen, TransAsia’s director, told reporters at a press conference, according to the Associated Press.

Wednesday’s accident marks the airline’s second deadly crash in less than 10 months. In July a TransAsia flight went down near the airport at Magong on Taiwan’s Penghu Island during a rainstorm, killing 48 people and injuring 10.

TIME China

China’s Economy Registers Weakest Economic Growth in 24 Years

CHINA-STOCKS
AFP/Getty Images A stock investor gestures as he checks share prices at a securities firm in Fuyang, China, on Jan. 19, 2015

Beijing said the country’s economic performance in 2014 was the “new normal”

China’s economy expanded by just 7.4% in 2014, undercutting earlier official forecasts and registering the Asian superpower’s weakest economic growth in 24 years, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday.

Late last year, authorities released official forecasts putting growth in 2014 at 7.5%. Tuesday’s revelation marked the first time in 16 years that the country’s economic performance missed the government’s annual target. However, authorities have largely tried to paper over the misstep.

“China has entered a new normal of economic growth,” Li Baodong, a Vice Foreign Minister, told reporters on Friday, according to Agence France-Presse. “That is to say we are going through structural adjustment and the structural adjustment is progressing steadily.”

Yet experts were not so quick to downplay China’s soaring debt, weak and volatile real estate market and plummeting domestic demand.

“Among all the problems, the biggest one is low domestic demand and the other is overcapacity. And when the global economy is not great, exporting is affected,” Chenggang Xu, a professor in economic development at the University of Hong Kong, tells TIME. “In the near future, we’ll see it slowdown further.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted additional cooling of the world’s most populous nation’s economy in 2015, and suggested that growth would drop well below 7%, reverberating in markets across the region.

Despite efforts by Beijing to reduce vulnerabilities from recent rapid credit and investment growth, this looming slump “is affecting the rest of Asia,” said the IMF report on Tuesday.

The release of China’s economic data for 2014 coincided with revised predictions on global economic growth from the IMF. On Tuesday, the institution ratcheted down expectations for the world’s economy in 2015, forecasting that growth this year would hover around 3.5%, down from their initial estimate of 3.8%.

TIME contraception

Pope Francis Tells Catholics That They Shouldn’t Be Breeding ‘Like Rabbits’

After hopping around Asia, the Pontiff condemns artificial contraception

Pope Francis used his return journey from Asia to insist that the Catholic Church’s prohibition on artificial contraception does not necessitate followers bearing an enormous brood of children.

“Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits — but no,” the 78-year-old Argentine told reporters while flying from the Philippines back to Rome, reports Reuters.

Francis spoke of meeting a Filipina woman who had risked her life to give birth to seven children, and revealed that he scolded her for her “irresponsibility.” He has developed a reputation for using plain, colloquial language to get his points across.

But despite garnering praise as a liberal reformer, Francis continues to condemn artificial birth-control methods, criticizing the Philippines’ recent legislation to make contraceptives more easily available to the public. He called these laws “ideological colonization,” claiming they conflict with traditional family values. (Advocates insist birth control empowers women and guards against sexually transmitted diseases.)

Francis explained that there are church-approved natural contraceptive methods that can prevent Catholics from having too many children. These consist primarily of abstinence while a woman is fertile.

[Reuters]

TIME Japan

Japan’s PM Abe to Express Remorse on 70th Anniversary of WWII Surrender

Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and his Cabinet members visit the Ise shrine in Ise, in central Japan, on Jan. 5, 2015

The 60-year-old vowed to emphasize Japan's efforts toward future world peace

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will express remorse for his country’s role in World War II in a statement on the 70th anniversary of his nation’s surrender in August.

“I would like to write of Japan’s remorse over the war, its postwar history as a pacifist nation and how it will contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Abe said at a press conference on Monday, reports Kyodo news agency.

Japan’s relations with South Korea and China have long been deeply impacted by the country’s attitude toward its wartime actions. The East Asian neighbors will pay particularly close attention to whether Abe will uphold his predecessor Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology for the “tremendous damage and suffering” Japan caused to people across Asia during the Pacific war.

Asked about Murayama’s statement, Abe said that he “has and will uphold statements issued by past administrations.”

[Kyodo]

TIME Aviation

Witness the Tragic Aftermath of AirAsia Flight 8501

Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency confirmed Tuesday that searchers had discovered debris from the missing AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 and the bodies of 40 passengers in the Java Sea. The Singapore-bound plane disappeared on Sunday with 162 people on board

TIME Religion

Dalai Lama Says He Would Rather Be the Last Than See Someone Stupid Take His Place

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama prays during Ganden Ngachoe, the death anniversary of 14th Century Tibetan Saint-Scholar Lama Tsongkhapa, in New Delhi, India, Dec. 16, 2014.
Tsering Topgyal—AP Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama prays during Ganden Ngachoe, the death anniversary of 14th Century Tibetan Saint-Scholar Lama Tsongkhapa, in New Delhi, India, Dec. 16, 2014.

Buddhists believe that the next Dalai Lama is born when the current one dies

The Dalai Lama has conceded that the title may die with him and that it is “up to the Tibetan people” to decide whether someone follows him. In a BBC interview on Tuesday night, the 79-year-old leader said: “The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease.”

“There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama,” he said.

The 14th Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, is the longest serving leader and has held the title since he was 15 years old. Each Dalai Lama is thought to be reincarnated in the body of a male child identified by Buddhist priests in Tibet.

A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the current Dalai Lama has been in exile in India ever since an attempted uprising in Tibet in 1959. He now supports a “middle way” with China, hoping for autonomy but not independence for Tibet.

[BBC]

Read next: TIME’s Exclusive With the Dalai Lama on Pot, Facebook and the Pope

TIME Wealth

Jack Ma Is the Richest Person in Asia

Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview, in New York City on March 12, 2009.
Chip East—Reuters Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview in New York City on March 12, 2009

There are no surprises here, really

Jack Ma is Asia’s wealthiest billionaire.

Ma, the founder of China’s e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, as well as a runner-up for TIME’s Person of the Year, is worth $28.6 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 50-year-old is worth about $300 million more than Hong Kong real-estate-and-ports tycoon Li Ka-shing, who had been Asia’s richest person since April 5, 2012.

About half of Ma’s fortune comes from his 6.3% stake of Alibaba. The Hangzhou-based company is larger than Amazon.com and worth about $259 billion.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Thailand

Thai Children Break World Record for Dressing as Christmas Elves

Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters Students gather to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of Christmas elves outside a shopping mall in Bangkok on Nov. 25, 2014

Largest gathering ever of Santa's little helpers near Bangkok

Santa’s little helpers are getting busy in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

On Tuesday, 1,792 children dressed in matching red, green and white hats and T-shirts and pointy plastic ears to break the Guinness World Record for the largest Christmas elves gathering, Reuters reports.

The previous record was set when 1,110 little elves got together in Wetherby, England.

“I’m happy to have helped break the world record and steal the title from England,” said 11-year-old Theerathep Noonkao, who attended the event in his wheelchair.

While predominantly Buddhist, Thailand breaks out the holiday sheen every year, as shops and hotels widely decorate for Christmas.

[Reuters]

TIME Asia

More Barricades Come Down at Hong Kong Democracy Protests

City bailiffs encounter no major opposition

Hong Kong bailiffs dismantled barricades at a major intersection in the Mong Kok protest area on Tuesday.

The site, on the teeming Kowloon peninsula, is one of three urban locations that have been occupied for almost two months by protesters demanding free elections for this city of 7.2 million.

Workers in white hard hats started taking down barricades at the intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street on Tuesday morning. Many activists did not resist but simply retreated with their tents and belongings to the main part of the site, which stretches for several blocks down Nathan Road and remains untouched. However, scuffles also broke out, pepper spray was used and about a dozen protesters were arrested for obstructing the bailiffs in their work, including Liberal Hong Kong politician Leung “Long hair” Kwok-Hung.

One-way traffic has now resumed on Argyle Street, but protesters and onlookers have spilled into adjoining roads. Police presence remains high in the area, with officers warning people to leave. Further clearance operations are expected in the coming days.

This morning’s action was taken in order to enforce a civil injunction granted to a bus company and two taxi companies, who successfully argued in court that the barricades at the intersection were obstructing their business.

Similar legal means were used last week to force the removal of some barricades at the fringes of the main protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong Island.

Critics of the authorities say the reliance on private litigation to restore order is a sign of the government’s weakness.

“I think this is a political problem that the government is not solving with politics,” said a 50-year-old retiree, who only identified himself by his surname Lim.

Unique among Hong Kong’s three protest sites, Mong Kok is not just a commercial area but a high-density residential neighborhood as well.

Currently dozens, perhaps hundreds, of colorful tents still festoon both sides of Nathan Road, completely blocking the main thoroughfare through the district. Protesters have set up a study area, makeshift library, supply tents, first-aid posts and even an elaborate altar to the martial deity Guan Yu.

Many of the area’s mostly blue-collar residents have complained bitterly about the disruption the protest is causing to their daily lives, generating heated arguments and scuffles with the protesters on a daily basis. The area is thus seen as the “front line” of the Hong Kong protests and attracts a more radical brand of demonstrator than the other protest zones, as well as their more vociferous opponents.

For these reasons, any attempt to clear the Mong Kok site completely could easily spill over into clashes.

On Oct. 17, police cleared the site in the morning, only for thousands of supporters to reclaim it after nightfall. That night, and ones before that, were marred with scattered violence.

“If they remove this roadblock, we will come back soon,” said a nurse who identified himself as Siu at the protest site in Mong Kok.

While recent polls have shown that a majority of the city’s residents now think that the occupations should end, it appears that large numbers of protesters have no intention of withdrawing.

With reporting by Helen Regan and David Stout / Hong Kong

TIME China

China Is Building an Island Large Enough for an Airstrip in Disputed Waters

The reclaimed land mass is situated among the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, claimed by five Southeast Asian nations

China appears to be building an island large enough to carry an airstrip in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

Satellite imagery shows a narrow land mass and harbor area taking shape over the previously submerged Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, reports IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

This is the fourth such Chinese project in the archipelago, located between the Philippines and Vietnam, and by far the largest.

Tensions have run high in the South China Sea for decades, but especially since the recent discovery of oil-and-gas deposits in the region. Earlier this summer, China and Vietnam came at loggerheads over the Chinese deployment of an oil rig in contested waters.

If China does build an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, it would put Beijing on a par with Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam who all have such capability in the Spratlys.

“It appears that’s what they’re working toward,” U.S. military spokesman Lieut. Colonel Jeffrey Pool told Agence France-Presse. “We urge China to stop its land-reclamation program, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities.”

Fiery Cross Reef was previously only equipped with a concrete platform, operated by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. The platform hosts a garrison, a pier, air-defense guns, antifrogmen defenses, communications equipment and a greenhouse, and may soon be connected to the new island.

The dredgers currently at work on the reef are also creating a harbor that appears big enough to receive tankers and major surface combatant vessels.

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