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7 of the best new K-dramas to watch in March 2024: Queen of Tears and Chicken Nugget on Netflix, Wonderful World on Disney+

Netflix will serve up a high-concept fried-chicken comedy in March, a month that will also welcome the return of one of the K-drama industry’s biggest stars in a major new romantic drama. We preview seven of the best K-drama series debuting this month. 1. Wonderful World Lead cast: Kim Nam-woo, Cha Sun-woo, Kim Kang-woo, Lim Se-mi Kim Nam-woo (Misty) leads Wonderful World as Eun Soo-hyun, a brilliant psychology professor and writer whose world is rocked following the unjust death of her son. When the person responsible for her grief isn’t brought to justice, Soo-hyun becomes involved with other grieving individuals and helps them solve their cases. Cha Eun-woo of the K-pop outfit Astro appears as the mysterious Kwon Seon-yul, while Kim Kang-woo (The Childe) plays Soo-hyun’s husband Kang Soo-ho, and Im Se-mi (The Worst of Evil) features as Soo-hyun’s friend and former manager Han Yoo-ri. (MBC, March 1) 2. Queen of Tears Lead cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Kim Ji-won March’s biggest star pairing will be found in the romantic drama Queen of Tears, featuring Kim Soo-hyun (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay) and Kim Ji-won (My Liberation Notes), who play a married couple going through a crisis. Kim Soo-hyun is Baek Hyun-woo, who grew up in the countryside and becomes the most successful person from his village after becoming the legal director of the Queens Group in the big city. Meanwhile Kim Ji-won is Hong Hae-in, the successor of the family that runs the conglomerate. Hyun-woo and Hae-in’s love story begins as a fairy tale, but Queen of Tears chronicles what happens to them after their perfect wedding, when the cracks begin to show. (tvN, March 9) 3. The Midnight Studio Lead cast: Joo Won, Kwon Na-ra Last seen in Stealer: The Treasure Keeper, Joo Won is back on screens as Seo Ki-joo, the seventh owner of a mysterious photo studio that provides its services exclusively to ghosts. Kwon Na-ra (Bulgasal: Immortal Souls) plays Han Bom, a lawyer who passionately defends justice. Her life takes a turn when she winds up becoming Ki-joo’s partner. Also working alongside the pair at the studio are assistant manager Go (Yoo In-soo, All of Us Are Dead) and errand boy Baek Nam-koo, played by Eum Moon-suk (Arthdal Chronicles: The Sword of Aramun). (ENA, March 11) 4. Chicken Nugget Lead cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Ahn Jae-hong, Kim Yoo-jung Director Lee Byeong-heon makes his Netflix debut with the hotly anticipated high-concept comedy Chicken Nugget, with his Extreme Job star Ryu Seung-ryong along for the ride. Ryu appears as Choi Sun-man, the owner of a small machine-manufacturing company. Ahn Jae-hong (LTNS) plays his intern Go Baek-joong, who has a crush on Sun-man’s daughter Choi Min-a (Kim Yoo-jung of My Demon). When Min-a drops by her dad’s office she discovers a mysterious machine there, but after stepping inside, she suddenly transforms into a piece of fried chicken. Sun-man and Baek-joong then desperately try to turn her back into a human. (Netflix, March 15) 5. Grabbed by the Collar Lead cast: Kim Ha-neul, Yeon Woo-jin, Jang Seung-jo Kill Heel actress Kim Ha-neul leads Grabbed by the Collar as famed journalist Seo Jung-won, who hosts a major current affairs programme. On the surface, Jung-won leads a perfect life, married to the rich Seol Woo-jae (Jang Seung-jo, The Good Detective) but that facade crumbles when Woo-jae’s mistress turns up dead. Already shocked to learn about her husband’s infidelity, things go from bad to worse when Jung-won becomes the prime suspect in the woman’s death. Her only ally turns out to be detective Kim Tae-heon (Daily Dose of Sunshine’s Yeon Woo-jin). Together, they try to uncover the truth. (KBS2, March 18) 6. The Escape of the Seven: Resurrection Lead cast: Uhm Ki-joon, Hwang Jung-eum, Lee Joon, Lee Yoo-bi, Shin Eun-kyung, Yoong Jong-hoon The Escape of the Seven continues in the sequel series Resurrection, from the masterminds behind the hit prime-time melodrama The Penthouse. The “Seven” are seven characters whose fates become entwined following the disappearance of a girl. Among them are The Penthouse alumni Uhm Ki-joon as Matthew Lee, the mastermind behind the mysterious case, Shin Eun-kyung as Cha Ju-ran, the sly lover of the missing girl’s rich grandfather, and Yoong Jong-hoon as the greedy talent agency CEO Yang Jin-mo. The series also stars Hwang Jung-eum (Kill Me, Heal Me), Lee Joon (The Silent Sea), Lee Yoo-bi (Yumi’s Cells). (SBS, March 23) 7. Hide Lead cast: Lee Bo-young, Lee Mu-saeng Lee Bo-young (Mine) is back in the Coupang Play original series Hide as Na Moon-young, whose husband Cha Sung-jae (Lee Mu-saeng, Maestra: Strings of Truth) suddenly disappears. Moon-young attempts to uncover the secret behind Sung-jae’s disappearance, and winds up crossing paths with her neighbour Ha Yeon-joo (Lee Chung-ah, One Dollar Lawyer) and the mysterious young man Do Jin-woo (Lee Min-jae, Crash Course in Romance), who may hold a crucial key to the case. The series is helmed by Kim Dong-hwi (The Tale of Nokdu). (Coupang Play, March 23)

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Japan’s move to ban crude words to transform prison system dismissed as ‘trivial’, ‘a joke’

A move by Japan to abolish prison slang among guards and inmates to encourage rehabilitation has been criticised by activists as “largely cosmetic” and ineffective in addressing deep-rooted issues within the country’s notoriously harsh detention system. Authorities have instructed correctional officers to refer to prisoners with the honorific “san”, which translates as “honourable mister”, in a shift in focus on incarceration and punishment to preparing inmates for a return to society and helping them to become law-abiding members of the public. The changes were outlined by Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi on February 22 and will come ahead of amendments to Japan’s criminal law. Koizumi said at a news conference in Tokyo: “The human heart is connected to words. If words become distorted, it can lead to abusive acts.” Japan women prisoners suffer serious abuse: Human Rights Watch While human rights activists have said the change is positive, they point to it being “largely cosmetic” and doing nothing to address underlying problems that continue to plague the prison service, such as violent treatment from guards and whether incarceration is even needed for petty crimes. They argued, for example, that even though Japan is a signatory to the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules – which state: “In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment” – Japanese prisons had been shown to breach the limit of 15 days in solitary confinement. ‘They’re asking if it’s a joke’ Shinichi Ishizuka, founder of the Tokyo-based Criminal Justice Future think tank, said changes were required to make life on the inside easier for inmates, but that he wasn’t convinced the minister’s demand for greater politeness was the solution. “I was in Nagoya Prison a few weeks ago. The guards were referring to yakuza members as ‘san’, and they were shocked,” said Ishizuka, the former director of the criminology research centre at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University. “These are criminals and they are saying it’s too ‘tender’. They are asking if it is some sort of a joke. “Japanese prisons are very hierarchical and there is concern among the guards that these changes will upset that hierarchy and undermine their authority,” he added. The Japanese government is revising its prison regulations as a result of an investigation into reports that surfaced in 2022 that guards at Nagoya Prison were physically and verbally abusing inmates. The inquiry ultimately determined that 22 guards assaulted or otherwise mistreated three male prisoners on 419 occasions between November 2021 and September 2022. Around 100 incidents involved guards kicking prisoners, slapping them, seizing them by their neck, or spraying them with an alcohol disinfectant, the Asahi newspaper reported. At least one of the inmates is understood to have learning difficulties. The guards claimed they had only acted when the inmates failed to follow their instructions or made requests. Telling guards to use or not use certain words is a bit cosmetic to me; it’s trivial Teppei Kasai, Human Rights Watch Nagoya Prison is regarded as one of the toughest in Japan, with guards previously found guilty of killing two inmates and seriously injuring another in 2001 and 2002. Seven guards were convicted of a series of assaults on prisoners, including killing one man by aiming a high-pressure fire hosepipe at his anus and causing him to die of bacterial shock. The guards received only suspended sentences. Nagoya Prison holds members of the Kodo-kai gang, one of the wealthiest in Japan’s yakuza criminal underworld. The group, which has its headquarters in Nagoya but operates in at least 18 prefectures, earns most of its income from white-collar crime, such as kickbacks in the construction and real estate sectors, although it also employs enforcers. Japanese police have classified the Kodo-kai as a quasi-terrorist organisation. The new initiative by the justice ministry, which rolled out the pilot project in Nagoya Prison last autumn, is designed to stop these inmates returning to the life of a gangster after completing their sentences. As well as using honorifics to refer to inmates, warders and prison staff have been instructed to stop using slang terms only used within the prison system, where food is known as “mosso”, a haircut is “gari” and custody is “gara”. The ministry is banning the use of 35 terms which, if used after a prisoner’s release, could single him or her out as a former inmate and hinder their chances to return to society. “My impression is that this is a step forward, but it is a very small step that has come about because of the expert panel that was set up last year to investigate abuse by guards in Nagoya prison,” said Teppei Kasai, programme officer at the Japan office of Human Rights Watch. “Telling guards to use or not use certain words is a bit cosmetic to me; it’s trivial.” Ocean’s 111? In Japan, elderly women are behind a surge in thefts Human Rights Watch is campaigning for more comprehensive reforms to Japan’s prison system that the organisation believes would be more effective at reducing recidivism. “The question we should be discussing is whether many of these people – especially women – should even be in prison in the first place,” he said. “In Japan, it is very difficult for people to rebuild their social and family ties after they are released and it is hard to find a job again.” As a result, people convicted of relatively minor crimes – shoplifting or being in possession of a small amount of drugs – are serving custodial sentences and struggling to reintegrate when they are released, according to Kasai. And very often, that ostracism from family, friends and society sees them reoffending. “Our position is that there should be other ways of dealing with these cases instead of sending people to prison,” he added. Nepali jailed in Japan for murder he did not commit urges prison reforms A study of conditions at Japan’s women’s prisons published by Human Rights Watch last year concluded that inmates endure “serious human rights violations”, including inadequate access to healthcare, separation from their children, and excessive restrictions in their communications within and outside prison. The report, titled “They Don’t Treat Us Like Human Beings”, also quoted a number of inmates in Japan’s 11 dedicated women’s prisons as claiming they had been handcuffed while giving birth while incarcerated. “My concern is that the government is making these cosmetic changes so it looks to the public like they are doing something, but in reality nothing is changing in the areas where change is most needed,” Kasai said. “Fundamental change is required, such as alternatives to prison for minor crimes.”

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More mainland Chinese cities may join solo traveller scheme if Hong Kong can handle latest additions, industry leader says after meeting Xia

More mainland Chinese cities may join a scheme allowing their residents to travel to Hong Kong on an individual basis if the latter can handle visitors from two soon-to-added locations, a local tourism leader has said after meeting a top Beijing official. The central government last week announced residents from Xian and Qingdao on March 6 could apply to visit Hong Kong under the expanded policy, which allows travellers from select mainland cities to forego joining tour groups. Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades president Simon Wong Ka-wo said on Monday that Harbin in the country’s northeastern quarter was likely to join the next round of the policy, with locations in the southwest and northwest expected to follow. Sources earlier told the Post that tourists from Harbin and other cities in Heilongjiang province would be added to the scheme in the next phase. Industry chief Wong was among those who met Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), on Friday. Beijing’s point man on Hong Kong affairs arrived in the city last Thursday to conduct a week-long fact-finding mission. He will depart on Wednesday. Wong said one of Xia’s team who specialised in economic development had told attendees that central authorities would gauge how Hong Kong managed the coming expansion of the solo traveller scheme, including the impact on local residents. “From [his wording] during the conversation, I believe Beijing will open up more cities soon,” he said. “[Xian and Qingdao] are the testing spots. If Hong Kong operates smoothly, there will be more cities opening up.” Wong also expected cities in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia would be added. “The per capita spending among tourists in 2023 fell. But if we have more tourists in the future, even if their buying power is not that strong, more of them in the end could help to boost catering and retail business,” he said. The federation president added that visitors from such mainland cities were more likely to stay overnight in Hong Kong given the greater travel distance involved. Hong Kong had the capacity to welcome more tourists from Xian and Qingdao as a sudden uptick in visitors from the two cities was not expected this year, he said. Touching on Friday’s high-profile meeting with business leaders, Wong said Xia was joined by three HKMAO deputy directors and six of the office’s bureau-level officials, who all oversaw Hong Kong’s economy and promotion-related work. What is the newly expanded solo traveller scheme and how will Hong Kong benefit? Wong also said mainland tourists had developed a preference for cultural and in-depth experiences, while Guangdong cuisine was considered a delicacy to those visiting from inner cities on the mainland. “I hope the catering and tourism sector and the Tourism Board can design more package activities to attract these tourists,” he said, adding talks on the subject were already in progress. Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Annie Tse Yau On-yee also echoed Wong’s expectation that Xian and Qingdao’s addition to the scheme was just the first step. She added that the initial impact of the change-up would not be significant since the policy did not “start from zero”. “If [Beijing] tried and thought it was feasible since Hong Kong’s affordability is OK, we hope it may open up more cities,” she said. Hong Kong leader welcomes move to expand solo traveller scheme to Xian, Qingdao The association chairwoman said long-haul travellers from Xian and Qingdao could help overnight businesses since they had to fly to Hong Kong to get there. Tse also said mainland tourists were now more focused on exploring Hong Kong’s cultural offerings rather than shopping, with goods in the city being “comparatively expensive” as the local currency had become stronger. The Individual Visit Scheme from early March will cover 15 mainland cities, including first-tier locations such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing. With the inclusion of Xian and Qingdao, the Individual Visit Scheme will cover 51 mainland cities, including many first-tier ones such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing. The policy was introduced for four Guangdong cities in 2003 under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between the mainland and Hong Kong.

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Norwegian Dawn cruise ship in quarantine off Mauritius with 3,000 people aboard

More than 3,000 people are stranded on board a cruise ship off the East African island of Mauritius because of a health risk. Following a series of gastrointestinal illnesses on board the Norwegian Dawn, the authorities in Mauritius refused to allow the ship to dock in the harbour of the capital Port Louis on Sunday, after the French island of La Reunion had already turned the ship away. “The decision not to allow the cruise ship access to the quay was taken in order to avoid any health risks,” the Mauritius Ports Authority said in a statement. “The health and safety of passengers as well as that of the country as a whole are of the utmost to the authorities,” it added, without giving any details about the nature of the health risk. Southern Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst cholera outbreaks in years. The majority of the 2,184 passengers were supposed to start their journey home on Sunday. At the same time, 2,279 new travellers were originally due to board in Port Louis, the port authority said. There are also 1,026 crew members on the ship. Employees of the Ministry of Health took samples from around 15 people on board on Sunday morning. The results of the investigation are expected on Tuesday. According to the authorities, at least 14 passengers and one crew member are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. They have been isolated in their rooms. The US company Norwegian Cruise Line said that a small number of passengers on the Norwegian Dawn had experienced mild symptoms of stomach illness on the 12-day voyage from South Africa. “Due to additional testing being required by local authorities before being allowed entry, the government of Mauritius has delayed disembarkation for the current cruise and embarkation for the next cruise by two days to February 27, 2024,” a statement from the company said. Royal Caribbean’s ‘Icon of the Seas’, world’s largest cruise ship, sets sail In a letter dated Sunday, the captain informed passengers that they would not be leaving the ship in Port Louis for the time being. Hygiene measures on board have been increased and all necessary measures are being taken to protect guests, crew and destinations, the company added. According to the Miami-headquartered company, the Norwegian Dawn, which was built in 2002, has space for up to 2,340 guests and 1,032 crew members on board. The vessel set off from South Africa on February 13 on its journey via Madagascar to La Reunion and Mauritius. The Norwegian Dawn was then due to return to South Africa with the new passengers. On Friday, the authorities on the French island of La Reunion refused to allow the ship to dock due to the gastrointestinal illnesses. Both the French government and the island’s regional health authority considered the health situation on board the ship to be unsatisfactory. The authorities had suggested sending doctors on board and carrying out tests. As a result, the shipping company decided to cancel the planned stopover and continue directly to Mauritius, the island’s prefecture explained. Additional reporting by Reuters

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As China’s Pacific influence grows, Japan eyes deeper ties with island nations amid their domestic woes

As Japan and Pacific island nations look to cooperate on a wide range of issues and close ranks against growing Chinese influence in the region, analysts say Tokyo also has to tackle the region’s concerns. These include climate change, disaster relief, and the discharge of waste water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant – an issue where greater “trust” and communication will be needed – while maritime and security ties with the region also need strengthening. At a meeting in the Fijian capital Suva last Monday, Japan and Pacific countries agreed to oppose “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion”, widely seen as a veiled reference to China’s growing influence in the region. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters she agreed with the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) on the importance of the “international rules-based order”. She added that Japan would continue to provide explanations based on “scientific evidence” about the release of treated waste water from Fukushima. The gathering aimed to lay the groundwork for the 10th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting – held once every three years since 1997 – set to convene in Tokyo this July. Given Japan’s attempts to understand local needs, economic development and climate change mitigation, including disaster relief, “would remain a priority”, said Kei Koga, an associate professor in the public policy and global affairs programme at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. Under Japan’s Official Security Assistance (OSA) framework launched last year, which aims to help developing nations strengthen their security, Fiji was listed as a priority country, Koga noted. Japan plans long-term maritime support for 4 Asean states in South China Sea In December, Japan agreed to provide Fiji with US$2.7 million in security assistance, including patrol boats, and in future, Tokyo was likely to use a mix of OSA and overseas development help to strengthen the capacities of regional countries, Koga said. “[This includes] maritime domain awareness and law enforcement capabilities to ensure maritime security,” he said, adding that Japan should also address the “long-standing concern of nuclear issues” in regards to the discharge of Fukushima waste water. “Without understanding their socially embedded concerns, it would be difficult to gain trust,” Koga said. For decades, Pacific countries have grappled with the environmental and health consequences of nuclear testing in the region by the United States, France and Britain after World War II. In recent months, Pacific leaders have expressed strong concerns over the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima plant into the ocean, highlighting concerns that the move would have on the environment and citizens’ livelihoods. Over the years, Japan has supported the region by setting up and expanding hospitals, building roads and bridges, and assisting with climate change mitigation and disaster relief prevention. Though a relative newcomer to the aid scene, China has extended economic and infrastructure assistance to the region, as well as signing a law enforcement and security agreement with the Solomon Islands in 2022. Alarmed by the move, the US reopened its embassy in Honiara the following year after a 30-year hiatus, and together with its allies including Australia and South Korea, took steps to strengthen diplomacy with the region through various forms of aid and other help. Moses Sakai, a research fellow at the PNG National Research Institute, said any form of help to Pacific nations from Japan “should not be about strategic competition in the region”. Rather, it should be based on mutual understanding and cooperation between Japan and PIF members and the interests of the region’s people, as spelled out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent that was formally endorsed at a 2022 meeting in Fiji. PIF leaders highlighted regional challenges and priorities in the strategy, ranging from climate change and ocean protection, to the sustainable management of land and ocean resources. “The real threat at the moment to the region’s security is not geopolitics, but climate change, therefore Japan should invest more on that including other key economic development priorities,” Sakai said. Noting that the region is prone to natural disasters as a result of climate change, Sakai said Tokyo should also invest in providing humanitarian help, especially during natural disasters. US boosts Pacific climate aid, but defence and China remain ‘sensitive’ topics Pacific nations are among the most vulnerable to the changing climate, with many already experiencing higher temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events, according to Australia’s national science agency CSIRO. Céline Pajon, head of Japan research at the French Institute of International Relations’ Centre for Asian and Indo-Pacific Studies in Paris, said Japan had taken steps to help the region adapt to climate change. In 2018, Japan helped set up a regional centre in Samoa’s capital Apia, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to focus on researching and addressing climate change effects The Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Chugoku Electric Power Inc. invested in expanding renewable energy in Fiji in 2021. “Japan could follow up on these,” Pajon said, in addition to providing support on weather data and in developing information infrastructure to aid evacuations in case of a tropical cyclone. “Japan is also expected to assist in the development of communication infrastructure, including the installation of submarine cables,” she said. As PNG vows return to normality, will chaos mar its ties with US and China? Adding that the next likely recipient of Tokyo’s OSA funding would be Papua New Guinea, Pajon noted that the nuclear issue had been a “traditional, central irritant” in Japan’s relations and the region. In 1981, the region protested against a Japanese project to dump nuclear waste in the ocean, while in 1992, the PIF criticised the plutonium transiting the region on the way from France to Japan. “The stepping up of economic cooperation helped to iron out the issue for some time”, she said. But nuclear concerns once again emerged as an issue affecting relations after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Pacific countries have called for greater transparency and communication since Japan began discharging treated waste water from the plant last August. “Tokyo is aware that the nuclear issue is very sensitive, and it is also used as a political card by some governments to criticise Japan, following China’s example,” Pajon added. One of the most vocal opponents of the release of the waste water, China has called the discharge an “extremely selfish and irresponsible act” and accused Japan of “passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity”. Kalinga Seneviratne, a consultant to the journalism programme at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, said the discharge was “widely opposed across the Pacific” and “damaged Japan’s standing in the South Pacific”. The few leaders who supported the discharge – on the grounds that the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it is safe – were accused by non-governmental organisations and commentators in the region of being “bribed by Japanese aid pledges”, he said. “Unless Japan is able to find a reason to stop the discharge – which they said will be done in stages over 30 years – their reputation is going to suffer,” Seneviratne said. “Japan is really helping China’s projection as a development partner of choice for the Pacific,” he said, adding that civil society and the PIF have not ceased trying to stop the release of the waste water into the ocean. “They see it as an affront to Pacific sensitivities,” Seneviratne said.

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Israel threatens Eurovision pull-out if song is vetoed as ‘too political’

Israel on Sunday warned that it may withdraw from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest if organisers reject the lyrics from its entry as too political. Eden Golan and her song October Rain were chosen to compete in the annual competition, which is being held in May in Malmo, Sweden. Media reports have suggested that the song, which is mostly in English with some Hebrew words, refers to the victims of Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel. That could mean the ballad and its 20-year-old Russian-Israeli singer fall foul of Eurovision rules, which ban political statements. “They were all good children, every one of them”, says a line from Golan’s song, according to the website of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (Kan) which published them in full. “There is no air left to breathe, There is no place for me,” the song ends. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said only that it was “currently in the process of scrutinising the lyrics” and a final decision had yet to be taken. “If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, as per the rules of the Contest,” it added. Kan said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the country’s Eurovision offering before the March 11 entry deadline. But it stated that the broadcaster has “no intention to replace the song”. “Meaning, if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition,” it added in a statement on Thursday. ‘Not a contest between governments’: Eurovision rejects Israel ban over Gaza war Israel’s Noa Kirel placed third in last year’s competition in Liverpool, UK behind Finland’s Kaarija and Sweden’s Loreen. Loreen’s victory takes the competition back to Sweden, 50 years after ABBA’s victory with Waterloo. Israel became the first non-European country to enter Eurovision in 1973 and has since won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998. But its participation and hosting of the event have regularly run into controversy. In 2019, Icelandic band Hatari, who previously challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Nordic folk wrestling match, made pro-Palestinian statements during the vote count in Tel Aviv. Organisers also gave pop queen Madonna a ticking off after her dancers flouted political neutrality rules by wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes. This year’s competition comes against the backdrop of the war, sparked by Hamas’ October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, according to an Agence France-Presse tally based on official Israeli figures. The EBU this week rejected calls for Israel to be barred from competing altogether because of the war in Gaza and the civilian casualties. But the potential for a ban on its entry has caused outrage, with Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, calling the prospect “scandalous”. Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens Even Israeli President Isaac Herzog waded in, saying he was “trying to help” as much as he could because of the high-profile nature of the show. Golan’s song was “moving”, he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political”. “I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art,” he added.

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Philippine protesters say ‘never again’ on anniversary of anti-Marcos uprising

Hundreds of Filipino protesters marched through Manila on Sunday, marking the anniversary of the 1986 uprising that ousted Ferdinand Marcos, while vowing to prevent his son from repeating the dictatorship. Marcos Jnr won the presidency in a landslide in 2022, nearly four decades after a “People Power” uprising ended his late father’s 20-year rule and chased the clan into exile in the United States. While Marcos Jnr remains popular, his campaign to alter the 1987 constitution has proved divisive. Critics warn the effort could lead to the abolition of term limits, with presidents currently allowed just one six-year stint in office. “The theme of this protest is to reject Marcos’s charter change moves which is a move to remain (in) power … which is basically what happened 38 years ago,” said economist Rosario Guzman, 58. She also said she had taken part in the 1986 uprising. “No to Cha-Cha (charter change),” read a protest banner displayed behind a mock black coffin marked “Freedom and Democracy”. Marcos maintains he is primarily seeking to amend the charter’s economic provisions to allow more foreign investment, and ideally create more jobs. He has said the political aspects, including term limits, should be tackled later. According to police in Manila, a few hundred people joined Sunday’s march, a far cry from the crowd that paralysed the capital’s main avenue over four days in February 1986 until the military withdrew its support for the elder Marcos. Rights groups say Marcos Snr’s regime jailed, tortured or killed tens of thousands of critics, including religious leaders, journalists and student activists, while corruption left the country impoverished. At the 38th anniversary march, 21-year-old demonstrator Giu de Sagun said he felt like he was “watching history repeat itself”. Some protesters wore shirts and hats vowing “never again”. At a small, official anniversary event in Manila, a group of government workers raised Philippine flags after laying a wreath in front of the People Power Monument. No senior government officials attended. Marcos Jnr and his family returned to the Philippines after his father’s death in 1989, and began a remarkable political comeback. His presidential victory was fuelled by a massive online misinformation campaign that portrayed his father’s time in office as a golden era. He has since won praise for pivoting away from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, which left thousands dead. Under the younger Marcos’ government, rights campaigner and vocal Duterte critic Leila De Lima was also freed after nearly seven years behind bars. “Under (Marcos Jnr), we are given the opportunity to make use of a democratic space in transition from the authoritarian regime that was Duterte’s,” she said last week. “This is our breathing room from the seven years of nightmare that we thought was all over in 1986,” she added.

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Zong Qinghou, billionaire founder of Chinese drinks giant Wahaha Group, dies at 79

Zong Qinghou, the founder of China’s drinks giant Hangzhou Wahaha Group that bought out its French partner Danone to dominate the local market, has died, according to a company statement. He was 79. The billionaire passed away at 10.30am local time on February 25, the company said in a statement on its official Weibo social-media account. A memorial service will be held on February 28 in Xiasha, Hangzhou, its home base in eastern Zhejiang province, it added. As the chairman of one of China’s largest beverage makers, Zong was ranked the nation’s wealthiest businessman in 2010 and 2012 by the Hurun Research Institute’s China Rich List. With a fortune of US$13.1 billion, he ranked 31st on the list last year. Born to a poor family in Hangzhou in October 1945, Zong became one of the “sent-down youth” in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution, which saw him spend 15 years working in the countryside. His age is stated as 79 according to Chinese tradition, which adds a year to the deceased. Zong returned to the provincial capital in 1978 to work as a salesman. In 1987, together with two retired teachers, Zong took over a grocer at a local school and started as a drinks and ice cream distributor – his first step in creating a leading beverage firm. He founded and headed Hangzhou Wahaha Nutritional Foods Factory in 1989, which became Hangzhou Wahaha Group two years later when it acquired an insolvent local canned food factory. In 1995, seeing the market potential for bottled water, Zong launched the pure water brand of Wahaha, which became immensely popular with Chinese consumers. The next year, French multinational Danone injected about US$70 million into five joint ventures with Wahaha, eventually rising to 39. That cooperation turned sour in 2007 when Zong rejected a plan by Danone to buy out Wahaha’s remaining assets in some of the joint ventures, accusing the French firm of orchestrating a hostile takeover. Danone accused Wahaha of secretly operating parallel companies that mirrored the products offered by their joint ventures. The high-profile dispute was settled in 2009 when Danone sold its interest in the ventures to Wahaha for an undisclosed sum, estimated by some analysts at the time to be worth about US$500 million. In September 2013, Zong captured media attention when he was attacked by a lone knife-wielding assailant. The man allegedly targeted Zong after being rejected for a job opportunity. Succession planning has been a key challenge for Wahaha Group. In 2021, Zong Qinghou’s only child, Zong Fuli, was appointed as vice-chairman and general manager, paving the way for her to eventually assume control of the group. With an international education and a deep understanding of both Western and Chinese food and beverage markets, Zong Fuli has been focusing on rejuvenating the brand and improving sales channels to attract young customers. Wahaha Group has faced tough times over the years. Intensifying competition and evolving sales models soon pressured its revenue. Nongfu Spring, Wahaha’s bottled-water rival run by China’s wealthiest tycoon Zhong Shanshan with a US$62 billion net worth, gained more market share through innovative advertising strategies. Amid challenges in China’s economy related to a slow recovery from years of Covid-related lockdowns, travel restrictions and industry-wide crackdowns from Beijing, Zong Qinghou last year expressed confidence in the economy’s potential with a letter publicly supporting the central government’s plan to strengthen support for private companies. Zong was a member of the Communist Party of China, and a delegate to the 10th, 11th and 12th National People’s Congress, as well as a delegate to the 12th, 13th and 14th congresses of the Communist Party of China in Zhejiang province, according to the company statement.

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Malaysia’s Pierre Pang talks Mamee Monster birthday parties, brand building and avoiding the 3-generation trap

With US$2.5 trillion in intergenerational wealth set to be handed down by 2030, the long-deferred succession plans of Asia’s richest families have been thrown into sharp relief. This is the second of two profiles this week on the next generation of crazy rich Asians. Read the main story here and the first profile, on Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto’s daughter Belinda, here. Malaysia’s famous snack brand Mamee can count on its third-generation heir Pierre Pang to continue its legacy. Once, when facing off against his young son who was determined to have a Pokemon birthday party, Pang insisted that he had a “Mamee Monster” themed celebration instead – one that is regularly thrown at the business empire’s Malaccan headquarters. “He doesn’t get to choose!” Pang said with a laugh. Even without the hard sell, it would be hard for anyone to forget Mamee’s widely beloved crunchy noodles. When Pang’s grandfather, Pang Chin Hin, died in 2022 at the age of 96, thousands of tributes flooded in for the company founder. The elder Pang first introduced Malaysia to the curly savoury snack in 1974, after noticing rubber tappers eating the uncooked instant noodles that his company had been making up until that point. His son Pang Tee Chew, Pierre’s father, continued the family legacy by adding more snacks to the group’s collection over the years including Mister Potato crisps, Double Decker prawn crackers and Corntoz corn snacks. Tributes flow in for late Malaysian founder of beloved Mamee snack Pierre Pang, who was educated at Wharton business school and Harvard University in the US, became group chief executive officer in 2022, having joined the business in 2009. To say he is energetic is an understatement. Speaking to This Week in Asia in a wide-ranging interview, Pang espoused a determination to steer the company successfully towards its 100-year anniversary. It is now 53 years old. “There isn’t a mandate [for new generations], so to speak. It’s [just] the voice of the second [and first] generations saying “don’t mess this up”,” he said. “Don’t fulfil the third-generation prophecy … [in which] the Chinese save for generations … the first generation builds a business, the second grows it and the third one crashes it … That’s what keeps us up at night.” Pang plans to ramp up revenue and get rid of some product lines, including its Nutrigen yogurt, saying the company does not have to “do too many things” to do well. He wants to transform the stereotyped view of Mamee as a “Chinaman company” that only wants to make profits and refuses to invest in technology, brands or people. The Pangs have also decided to do away with calling themselves “a family business” but a “generational business”. “You are born into a family not by choice, and therefore you will have the same mindset that you should not be removed as well,” he said. Family-owned firms more profitable, innovative, Credit Suisse says He says using the phrase “family business” fosters the attitude among heirs that regardless of whether they perform or not, they should remain in post. “This is the fastest way to kill the objective of carrying forward our grandfather’s legacy over multiple generations,” Pang said. It has not always been easy for the snack giant, dealing with strong competition from Malaysian and international brands like Cintan and Maggi from the get go. Then came a stagnation in earnings. Pang said that about 10 years ago, Mamee realised that its growth had started to flatline. “We started to see a lot of companies selling things not for their physical attributes, but more for their emotional attributes,” he said. “If Starbucks is just selling coffee, why is it nine times more expensive for an americano than a kopi kosong in a kopitiam?” Then came a realisation about the company’s changing customer base, Pang said. “We realised the reason why we’re stagnating is because we missed a huge [change]. We have started serving a new breed of consumers, and they are the millennials, and the millennials are not the same consumers as a generation or two ago,” he said. “They want something more than what they put in their mouth. They want something that they can share on social media.” Story of Malaysia’s famed Mamee Monster noodles – no instant hit Pang said marketing Mamee products as Instagrammable has worked, with business growing not just in Asia but Europe as well. However, another challenge lay ahead: the company’s carbon footprint. Consumers do not like it when their snacks have to travel a long way around the world in shipping containers, he said, so the company is setting up new factories in Mexico to serve customers on that side of the globe – even if it means higher costs of production. The next-generation leader also founded Mamee Ventures, which invests in food and beverage start-ups.

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Hong Kong police arrest ‘serial offender’ who allegedly splashed warm, unknown liquid on at least 10 women in street over month

Police have arrested a Hong Kong construction worker suspected of splashing a warm liquid onto the lower back and buttocks of at least 10 female pedestrians, including a 16-year-old, over the past month. The man, 56, was caught in a police operation on Great George Street in Causeway Bay on Friday night, after an officer spotted him splashing an unknown liquid onto the buttocks of a 17-year-old girl, the force said. “According to initial investigations, the suspect carried the liquid around in a vacuum flask, and poured it onto the palm of his hand before quickly approaching his victim from behind,” Senior Inspector Yee Hiu-yin of Mong Kok district crime squad said on Saturday. She said the man was arrested at the scene for outraging public decency, and remained in custody pending further investigation. His clothes and the vacuum flask were seized for inspection, Yee added. Senior Inspector Leung Sin-yi of the Mong Kok district intelligence unit said the victims described the liquid as being “odourless, but with a light colour and slightly warm”, and that the force was waiting for test results to identify it. Police said the man was suspected to be a serial offender. Police to set up CCTV cameras in Mong Kok first with more across Hong Kong later Between January 20 and February 18, police received reports from nine women, aged 16 to 32, saying their backsides had been splashed with warm liquid while walking around in Mong Kok, Leung said. By the time they realised their clothes had been soiled, the perpetrator had already fled, she added. “Some victims even reported being attacked twice within an hour,” she said, adding police managed to identify the suspect by combing through security footage of the area before conducting the operation in Causeway Bay on Friday. Hong Kong pool lifeguard arrested after allegation she filmed male colleague naked Yee said she had noticed a number of people posting on social media that they had similar experiences, and urged them or any witnesses to come forward to the Mong Kok crime squad. She warned that the offence of outraging public decency was a serious crime that could lead to a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. An Instagram page has been posting the experiences of women who were assaulted in a similar fashion since February 7. The page has shared the stories of at least 100 people and amassed nearly 1,800 followers.

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