East Asia Theater

Tiananmen Square suicide attack?

The Oct. 28 deadly incident in Tiananmen Square—in which an SUV ploughed into the crowd, leaving five dead and nearly 40 injured—appears to have been an act of terrorism. Police are reportedly checking hotels and vehicles for two men said to be ethnic Uighurs. It is unclear if the two suspects survived the crash or are thought to be accomplices. Accounts also do not make clear if the car's occupants were all killed in the crash; Reuters called the incident a "suicide attack," but also implied the attackers set the SUV on fire after driving it into the tourist-packed square. The Uighur ethnicity of the suspects has not been officially confirmed, but is based on surnames provided in police notes left with hotel management in the city to assist in the dragnet. Radio Free Asia cites reports from locals that police are checking ID cards of Uighurs on Beijing's streets and instructed hotels not to accept patrons from Xinjiang.

China authorities detain human rights advocate

Chinese writer, lawyer and human rights advocate Yang Maodong, commonly known by his pen-name Guo Feixiong (HRIC profile), on Aug. 17 became the second leader of the New Citizens movement to be arrested on suspicion of disrupting the peace. This follows the detainment of fellow New Citizens leader Xu Zhiyong  in July, in what appears to be a targeted crackdown on the human rights movement. Yang's family noted a recent lack of communication starting earlier this month, but were unable to confirm he was missing until his sister received a message from the Tianhe branch of the Guangzhou police in southern China on Saturday that he was detained nearly two weeks ago. These arrests are thought to be connected to publication of Xu's latest article, calling for a political revolution, as well as protests against newspaper censorship led by Yang. The two leaders are deeply involved in several rights campaigns, including Chinese Human Rights Defenders  and Pen International.

China: authorities detain activist Xu Zhiyong

Chinese activist and lawyer Xu Zhiyong was arrested by authorities July 17 on suspicion of having "gathered crowds to disrupt public order." Xu, a law lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and founder of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng), was placed under house arrest on April 12. Xu's arrest came after President Xi Jinping  pledged to increase efforts to combat government corruption. Xu was previously detained by Chinese police in 2009 on charges of tax evasion. Coinciding with Xu's arrest, earlier this week Wang Wenzhi, a reporter for the official Xinhua News Agency, accused China Resources (Holdings) chairman Song Lin of corruption. The article was later removed.

Edward Snowden a hit on Sina Weibo

This is pretty funny. The Wall Street Journal informs us that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been a big hit among freedom-hungry Chinese cyber-cognoscenti. "This is the definition of heroism," wrote one particularly enthusiastic micro-blogger (presumably on Sina Weibo). "Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country's citizens. All countries need someone like him!" This is a brilliantly acceptable guise for dissent within China: it places Beijing in the uncomfortable position of either having to tolerate the dissent or implicitly diss a dissident from the rival superpower! We were a little skeptical when Snowden took refuge in Hong Kong, recalling Julian Assange's coziness with authoritarian regimes even as he is glorified as an avatar of freedom. But Beijing will probably see Snowden as too hot a potato, for obvious reasons. "He must be protected," one sharp wit wrote on Sina Weibo. "This is one of the few opportunities the Communist Party has to contribute to world good." (See report at Quartz)

Tiananmen Square revisionism —again

Once again, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre brings tens of thousands to the streets of Hong Kong—for a candlelight vigil in the rain, with signs reading "Vindicate June 4" and "Never give up!" Said pro-democracy Hong Kong councilor Lee Cheuk-yan: "Everybody can see that China today continues to tighten and this suppression of human rights will cause more Hong Kong people to come out." But Tiananmen Square itself was packed with not with protesters but with tourists, as on any other day. Plainclothes police were out in force, checking ID cards of Chinese tourists. Days before the anniversary, the Tiananmen Mothers group wrote in an open letter circulated by the US-based Human Rights in China: "Our hope is fading and despair is drawing near." The mothers were closely watched by police as they paid respects to victims in Beijing's Wan'an cemetery, while gathering at Tiananmen itself was completely impossible. "If the government is sensible, next year is the 25th anniversary and they could designate a spot where we could march," said Zhang Xianling, 76, a leader of the group.

Fukushima: the cover-up continues

A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon in a suit filed on behalf of 14 children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima arguing that the nearby town of Koriyama should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure. After the Fukushima accident, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area. The average radiation for Koriyama is below this level, but some "hot spots" around the city are above the cutoff. The district court rejected the suit in a December 2011 decision. An appeal is now before the Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi prefecture.

Meanwhile: Seoul-Tokyo tensions mount...

With all eyes on the crisis between North and South Korea, the international media have largely overlooked growing tensions between both Koreas and Japan. On April 5, Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest against Japan's renewed territorial claim to the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan. The protest came after Tokyo issued a formal claim over the Seoul-controlled easternmost islets through approval of a diplomatic report that stated: "Takeshima is clearly Japanese territory in light of historical facts and under an international law." In a separate protest days earlier, Seoul lodged a complaint over new textbooks approved in Japan that emphasize Tokyo's claim to the islets while downplaying Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. (Dong-a Ilbo, April 6; Xinhua, April 5; AsiaOne, March 27)

Korea peninsula pawn in New Cold War with China

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Dec. 12, exploding what is paradoxically being called a "miniaturized" device that nonetheless packed a greater explosive force than those the DPRK set off in 2006 and 2009. "We can assume this is roughly twice as big in magnitude," said Lassina Zerbo of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitored from afar the underground blast at the Punggye-ri  test site in the DPRK's northeast mountains. Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defense against "US hostility." South Korea, which placed its US-backed military on alert after the test, said it would fast-track development of longer-range missiles that can reach the whole of North Korea. "We will speed up the development of ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers," a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters. 

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