East Asia Theater
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)
Some 100,000 people from eight cities across Taiwan marked the approaching three-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster by taking to the streets to demand an end to nuclear power in the island nation. Protesters called for a halt to construction on the island's fourth nuclear power plant, now underway at Lungmen, as well as closure of the existing three installations. They also demanded the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, and that the government review its policy on the long-term management of radioactive waste. (Taiwan Today, March 10; China Post, March 9)
Local authorities in Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province, said March 2 that a deadly mass knife attack at the city's main rail station that morning was "orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces," the official news agency Xinhua reported. At least 29 were killed and more than 130 injured as a group of black-clad men chased down and stabbed commuters in the early-morning rush hour. Five suspects were shot by police, and it is unclear how many may have escaped. President Xi Jinping pldged to respond "with all-out efforts and punish the terrorists in accordance with the law." (Xinhua, Xinhua, Xinhua, March 2)
The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court on Jan. 26 sentenced legal scholar and activist Xu Zhiyong to four years in prison on the charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." Xu is the founder of the New Citizens' Movement, a grass-roots organization which seeks to draw attention to matters of public discontent, including equal access to education and disclosure of Chinese officials' personal assets to combat corruption. Xu's trial was on Jan. 22, and his closing statement to the court was interrupted after roughly 10 minutes by the judge, who said his comments were irrelevant. In his statement, Xu addresses the need to uphold constitutional rights for all citizens in China under the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. US Ambassador Gary Locke issued a statement on the day after Xu's trial, expressing concern over the recent arrests of advocates for government reform in China. Amnesty International called the four-year sentence shameful, and the Human Rights Watch called the trial a pretext for a broad crackdown on popular protests against corruption.
While the world media are paying little note, and most of the stateside public thinks of the Fukushima disaster in the past tense, in fact the ongoing effort to stabilize the stricken nuclear complex is now about to enter its most dangerous phase. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) will this month begin removing fuel rod "assemblies" from reactor building No. 4—where they are vulnerable because the containment dome was shattered by a hydrogen explosion four days into the disaster, on March 15, 2011. They are to be transferred to an "undamaged facility" within the complex. There are 1,533 of these zirconium-plated "assemblies," and they are said to be in a chaotic "jumble." The transfer is to take about a year—if all goes well. (Japan Times, FukuLeaks, Nov. 14; EneNews, Nov. 6; Fukushima Update, Sept. 14)
A series of explosions outside the provincial Communist Party headquarters in Taiyuan, capital of China's Shanxi province, left one dead and at least eight wounded Nov. 6. National broadcaster CCTV said more than 20 vehicles were damaged. Coverage inevitably invokes last week's Tiananmen Square attack, which has been blamed on Uighur militants. But South China Morning Post notes that the blasts come a week after "a team of graft investigators from Beijing arrived in Taiyuan to conduct an in-depth review of the province's finances." Authorities have appealed to citizens with personal grievances not to overwhelm the team. There have been several bomb blasts in China over the past years apparently motivated by frustration with official corruption rather than any ideological or ethnic agenda. Shanxi has seen violence in recent years over labor unrest and land disputes.
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.