East Asia Theater
Some 40,000 protested outside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office June 30 to oppose the government's official reinterpretation of the constitution to allow Japan's military a larger international role. Protesters chanted "Protect the constitution!" and "Stop war, stop Abe!" The change was officially announced the next day, asserting a right to "collective self-defense"—essentially, allowing use of the Self-Defense Forces in wars beyond Japan's shores. In announcing the change, Abe counterintuitively stated that "the risk that Japan will be involved in a war will be reduced further with [today's] Cabinet approval." Legal scholars contend the "reintrepetation" has no legitimacy without an actual change to the constitution, and Diet approval. (Japan Times, July 2; DW, Asahi Shimbun, July 1; Revolution News, AP, June 30) In reaction to Abe's proposed change, Japanese activists earlier this year submitted a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Article 9, the constitutional provision under which Japan "forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation." The Nobel Prize Committee has officially accepted the nomination. (Kyodo, April 11)
Chinese authorities carried out aggressive detentions ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Sqauare massacre, with New Tang Dynasty news agency reporting 70 journalists, dissidents and rights defenders arrested over the past month. Blogger and journalist Gao Yu went missing at the end of April, and Beijing activist Hu Jia has been under house arrest for more than three months, after announcing his intention to hold a vigil in the square on the June 4 anniversary, in defiance of authorities. The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog notes that tens of thousands attended a vigil in Hong Kong, but the New York Times' Sinosphere blog reports that Tiananmen Square itself was so thick with security patrols and checkpoints that even the usual throng of tourists was down to a mere trickle. A tantalyzing report in the Globe & Mail says that a small group of black-clad citizens did manage to walk through the square in a silent, symbolic protest.
Chinese authorites on May 6 detained prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on a charge of "causing a disturbance" after he attended a weekend meeting that urged an investigation into the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Pu Zhigiang is a leading free-speech lawyer who is well known for opposing China's system of forced labor camps before they were recently abolished by the government. According to the official notice, Beijing police "criminally detained" Pu on a charge of "causing a disturbance" and are holding him at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. "These charges and detentions lay bare just how little the Chinese government's attitudes towards human rights have changed since 1989," said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. At least five dissidents and professors have disappeared since attending the meeting, which was held to commemorate and call for an investigation into the truth of the 1989 government crackdown.
As thousands of protesters blocked a main traffic artery in Taipei and clashed with police sent to clear them, Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party agreed April 28 to halt work on two nuclear reactors. Work on the Lungmen nuclear plant, which would be Taiwan's fourth, started more than a decade ago in the island's northeast, about 20 miles outside Taipei, but has met growing opposition since the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The No. 1 reactor at Lungmen is to be sealed, while work on the No. 2 reactor will be put on hold, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said. The decision was made following negotiations with opposition parties. Jiang added that the announcement does not represent a major change in the government's energy policy, and refused to say that the Lungmen project has been permanently abandoned. (BBC News, Radio Australia, Taiwan Today, NYT's Sinosphere blog, April 28)
Workers at six out of ten factories in Dongguan owned by Taiwanese multinational Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings have been on strike since April 14 after discovering the company has not been paying its 70,000 employees legally required levels of social security and housing contributions. At least 10,000 Yue Yuen workers took to the streets the day the strike began. Yue Yuen produces shoes for sportswear brands including Nike, Adidas and Asics. The strike is emblematic of a new wave of labor struggles in Guangdong, where Dongguan is located, and other industrial regions of China. Samsung, Lenovo, Nokia and Wal-Mart are among the companies hit by stoppages in recent weeks. Strikes are up by almost one-third in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to research by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. The group's findings also reveal "a more forceful response from the local authorities," with a four-fold increase in police interventions and a sharp rise in arrests. This trend is confirmed by recent trials of worker activists and strike organizers. (Bloomberg, April 19; China Worker, April 17; China Labour Bulletin, April 14)
In a slightly surreal case, Kyodo news agency reports April 20 that a Shanghai Maritime Court ordered the seizure of a vessel owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui OSK Lines at a port in Zhejiang province for failing to pay compensation in "a wartime contractual dispute." It seems that in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co, rented two ships on a one-year contract from China's Zhongwei Shipping Co. The ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and later sank at sea. The suit was brought against Mitsui by grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping, and has been batted around in China's courts for years. In 2012, the Supreme People's Court rejected Mitsui's petition for retrial, affirming the Maritime Court's finding that the company must pay. The decision to seize the ships now seems pretty clearly retaliation for Japanese cabinet minister Keiji Furuya's visit to the Yasukuni shrine days earlier. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself sent a "ritual offering" to the shrine ahead of Japan's spring festival, which starts this week. All of this is happening (again less than coincidentally) exactly as Japan has started construction of a military radar station on Yonaguni Island—just 150 kilometers from the disputed gas-rich Senkaku archipelago, claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. (Reuters, Singapore Today, Xinhua, BBC News)
Hundreds of students remain barricaded in Taiwan's Legislature in protest of the ruling party's push for a Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement with the People's Republic of China. Protesters, most of them college students, stormed into the assembly hall of the Legislative Yuan, breaking the glass doors and blocking the entrances by piling up lawmakers' chairs to prevent police from entering. The protesters also took over the podium and rostrum in the chamber. The action was prompted March 18 when the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) cut short review of the trade agreement and sent the pact directly to the plenary session for its second reading. In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) boycotted the plenary session. Student leader Fei-fan Lin, speaking at a press conference, said: "We want the agreement to be recinded—not just back to the committee, but we want it thrown out, and tell China we are not signing this." (China Post, March 20; Taipei Times, CNN, VOA, March 19; Ketagalan Media, March 18)
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) has issued a statement protesting "speculation" over the fate of the missing Malaysian Boeing 777 airliner that disappeared March 8 over the South China Sea en route to Beijing. Among the 239 passengers was Memetjan Abla, an acclaimed Uighur artist whose work dealt with social and political themes. Abla was traveling as part of a Chinese state-sponsored group of 29 artists. UHRP writes: "Conjecture alleging Mr. Abla's presence on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as evidence of possible Uyghur involvement in the plane's fate is a disservice to his life and work. At present, there is no publicly available evidence to support a Uyghur connection hypothesis and UAA urges commentators to await the results of a full investigation into the incident." As an example of irresponsible speculation, UAA links to a Tweet from Rupert Murdoch: "777crash confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China. Chance for US to make common cause, befriend China while Russia bullies." (UAA, March 10)