Top Asian News 2:51 a.m. GMT
POIPET, Cambodia (AP) — A massive fire at a Cambodian hotel casino Thursday injured over 60 people and killed at least 19 — a number that officials warned would rise after the search for bodies resumes Friday. The blaze, which started around midnight Wednesday, was put out over 12 hours later at 2 p.m. Thursday, said Sek Sokhom, head of Banteay Meanchey province’s information department. He said more than 60 people were injured and the death toll was expected to rise once rescuers are able to access victims who were believed to still be under debris or in locked rooms.
BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. military says a Chinese navy fighter jet flew dangerously close to an Air Force reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea earlier this month, forcing the American pilot to maneuver to avoid a collision. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement Thursday that the incident occurred Dec. 21 when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy J-11 flew in front of and within 6 meters (20 feet) of the nose of an RC-135, a type of large reconnaissance plane operated by the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. plane was “lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace,” the statement said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of an anti-tank mine-laying system to Taiwan amid the rising military threat from China. The department on Wednesday said the Volcano system and all related equipment would cost an estimated $180 million. It’s capable of scattering anti-tank and anti-personnel mines from either a ground vehicle or helicopter. The announcement indicated Taiwan would be buying the vehicle-borne version, the kind of general-use weapon many experts believe Taiwan needs more of to dissuade or repel a potential Chinese invasion. To advertise that threat, China’s military sent 71 planes and seven ships toward Taiwan in a 24-hour display of force directed at the self-ruled island it claims is its own territory, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Monday.
BEIJING (AP) — Moves by several countries to mandate COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving from China reflect global concern that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak — and that the government may not inform the rest of the world quickly enough. There have been no reports of new variants to date, but China has been accused of not being forthcoming about the virus since it first surfaced in the country in late 2019. The worry is that it may not be sharing data now on any signs of evolving strains that could spark fresh outbreaks elsewhere. The U.S., Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy have announced testing requirements for passengers from China.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea staged large-scale military drills Thursday to simulate shooting down drones as a step to bolster its readiness against North Korean provocations, three days after the North flew drones into its territory for the first time in five years. South Korean warplanes and helicopters failed to bring down any of the five North Korean drones spotted south of the border Monday before they flew back home or vanished from South Korean radars. One of them traveled as far as northern Seoul. That caused security jitters among many people in the South, for which the military offered a rare public apology Tuesday.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines says President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hopes to sign a number of agreements during a visit to Beijing next week that comes amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. A statement from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday said a number of projects were under discussion, including in agriculture, renewable energy, nickel processing, tourism and bridge construction. Marcos is due to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during his Jan. 3-5 visit at the head of a large business delegation. China accounts for 20% of the Philippines’ foreign trade and is also a major source of foreign direct investment.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Even before the Taliban barred Afghan women from working at non-governmental groups, their forces visited the office of one local organization in the capital Kabul several times to check female staff were obeying rules on dress codes and gender segregation. Already, the women in the office had been extra careful, hoping to avoid problems with the Taliban. They wore longer clothes and masks along with the Islamic headscarf and stayed separate from male co-workers in the workspace and at meals, one female NGO employee told The Associated Press. “We even changed our office arrival and departure times because we didn’t want to be followed” by the Taliban, she said, speaking on condition her name, job title and the name of her organization not be used for fear of reprisals.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Major aid agencies on Thursday warned that Afghans will die because of the Taliban order banning women from working at nongovernmental groups, and stressed that female staff are crucial for the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance across war-battered Afghanistan. The dire prediction came after the Economy Ministry last week said women can no longer work at international or domestic NGOs, allegedly because they are not wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly at their workplace. The order was the latest blow to women’s rights and freedoms since the Taliban took power in August 2021. The move has triggered international condemnation and calls for the Taliban to reverse their decision immediately, as the country grapples with a spiraling humanitarian crisis, a harsh winter, and an economic collapse.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A freight truck collided with a bus on a highway near the South Korean capital Seoul on Thursday, causing a fire that killed at least five people and injured 37 others, officials said. It wasn’t immediately known what caused the collision and fire, nor what cargo the truck was carrying. The National Fire Agency said in a statement that three of the injured were in serious conditions while 34 others were lightly injured. Fire officials said the collision occurred inside a noise-barrier tunnel on the highway. Earlier TV footage showed thick black plumes of smoke billowing from the tunnel, but fire officials said later they’d almost put out the blaze.
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka vowed to address the “litany of woe” created by the nation’s former government while raising concerns about the Pacific nation’s massive debt. In his first address to the country since being sworn in to office on Christmas Eve, Rabuka said Thursday there had been a “great and joyful awakening” in a nation where democracy is considered fragile. The 74-year-old’s election Dec. 24 at a special sitting of Parliament in Suva ended the 16-year reign of Fiji First Party leader Frank Bainimarama as prime minister. The People’s Alliance Party leader, who formed a tripartite coalition to win office, promised to audit the spending of the former government and said he will institute an austere approach while in power.