Pyongyang, nuclear claim: South Korea’s military said more analysis is needed to verify North Korea’s claim that Sunday’s test-launch of a ballistic missile was a new mid-to-long range rocket built to carry a nuclear warhead. Asia Times reports that the missile landed in the sea near Russia days after its new president took office pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue.
Silk Road Forum: President Xi told the Belt and Road Forum that he has earmarked an additional US$113 billion for this sprawling trade initiative, writes Pepe Escobar. Xi delivered the forum’s opening keynote speech to an audience that included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and a host of other world leaders and top ranking officials.
Seoul looks north? South Korea’s new president has appointed a right-hand man, Im Jong-seok, who served a prison term for behavior that a court considered was aiding his country’s main enemy, North Korea. Bradley K. Martin writes that Im, who was convicted and sentenced in 1989 after arranging an illegal visit to Pyongyang by a fellow leftist activist, is now chief of staff to president elect, Moon Jae-in.
Indonesia’s Islamic intolerance: There are renewed calls to scrap Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law following last week’s conviction and imprisonment of ethnic-Chinese Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama. John McBeth reports that the growing use of the law inhibits free speech and has marginalized Christians, minority sect Muslims and other groups in a country whose secular Constitution clearly protects religious freedom.
Russia’s Eastern gamble: After Lawrence Ho’s Tigre de Cristal casino complex project proved the concept of a Northeast Asian gambling hub, the much-delayed Mayak project near Vladivostok is at last starting to gain traction. Asia Times reports that the US$350 million resort is expected to open early in 2019 with a hotel, concert venue and casino that will boast an estimated 300 slot machines and 30 gaming tables.