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.
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

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

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

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 Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters

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.

TIME China

Why You Should Care About Obscure Asian Trade Pacts

U.S. President Barack Obama Visits China
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a joint press conference at the Great Hall of People in Beijing on Nov. 12, 2014. Feng Li—Getty Images

They will play an important role in determining America’s future in Asia

As the very name tells you, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing this week was mostly about business. And for good reason. Cross-Pacific trade — especially between Asia and the U.S. — is what made countries like China, Japan and South Korea as rich as they are today. So all of the national leaders who attended — from U.S. President Barack Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin to China’s President Xi Jinping — are incentivized to promote freer exchange between their economies, and as a result, much of the talk at the summit regarded pacts aimed at further reducing barriers to exports and imports.

But these days, trade has also become a tool of geopolitical strategy, and that, too, showed itself at APEC. Different Pacific powers are pushing for different trade deals. How that competition plays out in coming years will help shape the region’s political and economic future — and most of all, the role the U.S. may play in Asia for decades to come.

China’s Xi is promoting a regional pact called the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which would build on the many overlapping free-trade agreements in East Asia. On Tuesday, he said that APEC countries “should vigorously promote” the FTAAP and “turn the vision into reality as soon as possible.” China made a bit of progress on this agenda. In their official communiqué, the APEC leaders pledged “to kick off and advance the process in a comprehensive and systematic manner” and set up a committee to undertake a two-year study on forming the FTAAP.

Meanwhile, Washington is advocating a rival trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation agreement that includes countries as far-flung as Japan and Chile — but, most importantly, excludes China. The U.S. sees the TPP as a way of redirecting trade toward America, while pressuring China to eventually conform to more market-oriented trade and business practices. Obama on Monday said that he saw “momentum building” toward the completion of the TPP.

Which one of these trade deals comes to fruition will have major implications. That’s because trade flows translate into political muscle. For much of the modern history of Asia, the U.S. was at the center of a vast trading network in which factories around the region manufactured goods exported to American consumers. But the position of the U.S. has declined in recent years. Only 14.2% of Asia’s merchandise exports were shipped to the U.S. in 2013, down from 23.7% in 2000, according to the Asian Development Bank. Meanwhile, as China’s economy has grown into the world’s second largest, it has started to transplant the U.S. as the main trading partner for many Asian countries, and that shift has added to Beijing’s political clout in East Asia — at the expense of the U.S.

Beijing wants to keep that trend going, hence the push toward the FTAAP. The U.S. would rather have the TPP, as a way of maintaining its own influence in East Asia and countering rising Chinese power. Right now, the U.S. has the edge. The TPP talks may be dragging on (mainly due to Japanese resistance to opening its highly protected agriculture sector), but they are very advanced, while China’s pact is just inching off the ground. Though China won a minivictory getting its deal a green light at APEC at all, the nod is just the tip-off to what promises to be a long, arduous process — which may or may not go anywhere in the end.

Further complicating matters is the need for the U.S. and China to cooperate on trade with each other. The U.S. market is critical to Chinese economic growth — China exported more than $440 billion worth of stuff to America last year alone — while access to China’s expanding middle class is no less important for the future of many U.S. companies. That leaves Beijing and Washington in the odd position of both competing over and signing onto trade deals. On Monday, the two hammered out a long-awaited understanding to expand the number of products covered under another pact, the Information Technology Agreement, or ITA. This bilateral step could lead to a much bigger trade deal at the World Trade Organization that promises to reduce tariffs on a wider array of IT goods, potentially giving a big boost to U.S. tech outfits.

What that shows is how the U.S. and China, despite their geopolitical contest for dominance in East Asia, ultimately have no choice but to do business. Whatever trade deals eventually win the day — the TTP, the FTAAP and so on — the world’s two biggest economies may have to create a few more acronyms they can share.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. How do you frighten political strongmen? Teach journalism.

By Thomas Fiedler in the Conversation

2. Far from policing free will, taxes on sugary drinks make sense in the context of subsidies for corn syrup and the Medicaid and Medicare expense of 29 million Americans with diabetes.

By Kenneth Davis and Ronald Tamler in the Huffington Post

3. Palm oil production has a devastating impact on the environment, but smart science and better farming could reduce the harm.

By Michael Kodas in Ensia

4. We shouldn’t let Ebola panic squelch civil liberties.

By Erwin Chemerinsky in the Orange County Register

5. What we learn from video games: Giving military robots controls like “Call of Duty” could save lives on the (real) battlefield.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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 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 Asia

Diwali: A Row of Lights

Diwali is a five-day festival of lights that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness

Diwali is a five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival coincides with the Hindu New Year that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

Diwali, which means “a row or series of light,” has both mythical and spiritual meanings. The holiday traces back to the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita.

Rama was the eldest of four sons and was to become king. However, Rama’s stepmother wanted to see her son Bharata rule instead. The old king had once promised to grant his wife any two wishes she desired, and so she demanded that Rama be banished and Bharata be crowned. To show good faith to his father, Rama agreed to leave. Sita, Rama’s wife, begged to accompany him.

When Bharata — Rama’s stepbrother — found out what his mother did, he pleaded with Rama to claim his rightful place as king. But Rama refused to go against his father and only agreed to return when his 14-year banishment was over.

Later, Ravana, the 10-headed evil king, kidnaps Sita. Rama builds an army and vanquishes Ravana. It is said that people light up their houses to celebrate his victory. Now Diwali is celebrated with large fireworks shows to commemorate Rama’s return.

During the days leading up to Diwali, it’s traditional for people to clean and decorate their homes and offices with earthen diyas, lamps and rangoli — patterns created on the ground using colored rice or powder. During Diwali, families and friends dress in new clothes and share sweets and gifts.

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