East Asia Theater
North Korea announced Dec. 12 that it had successfully launched a satellite into orbit atop a three-stage rocket. "The launch of the second version of our Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province by carrier rocket Unha-3 on December 12 was successful," North Korea's news agency, KCNA, reported. "The satellite has entered the orbit as planned." Efforts to launch a satellite last April failed when the rocket exploded moments after lift-off. This time, the effort appears to have succeeded. The US mobilized four warships to track the launch, and Japan's government issued orders to its military to shoot down any rocket debris that entered its territory. The first stage splashed into Yellow Sea, the second into the Philippine Sea north of Luzon Island; the third remains in orbit. This means North Korea now has the ability to go "exo-atmospheric"—a capacity that could be used in an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The US maintains the launch constitutes a test of long-range missile technology banned under UN resolutions.
In the recent wave of anti-Japan protests in China, we've wondered how much of it was genuinely spontaneous and how much (contrary to official appearances) state-instrumented. The signals are even harder to read in Vietnam, where several were actually arrested in anti-China protests Dec. 8. At issue is the contested South China Sea and its oilfields, a question that has (paradoxically, for those who can remember back just to the 1960s) caused Vietnam to tilt to the US in the New Cold War with China. Has the regime's anti-China propaganda (and exploitation of hopes for an oil bonanza to lift the nation out of poverty) created something now a little out of control? Or are even the arrests part of a choreographed game?
We were pleased as punch last month when South Korean rapper PSY's irresistible "Gangnam Style" video became the most-viewed clip of all time on YouTube, with 806 million views, surpassing something by that pisher Justin Bieber. (LAT, Nov. 24) How can this be anything other than an advance for humanity? The young YouTube star XiaoRishu, a London vlogger of Chinese-Vietnamese background, has a devastating video taking down the stateside xenophobic backlash to K-pop's ascendence, as exemplified in another vid from some redneck punk somewhere in the US heartland sputtering (all too literally) a racist anti-Gangnam Style rant (no, we're not gonna give him a link). What makes it even better is that "Gangnam Style," as its Wikipedia page informs us, is intended to poke fun at the well-heeled residents of Seoul's upscale Gangnam suburb—the song is a proletarian statement against the bourgeoisie, even if the video's legions of fans in places like Bel Air or Roslyn, Long Island, don't have a clue about this. So it is no surprise that "Gangnam Style" has now officially entered the USA's tiresome and interminable culture wars...
Following disturbing findings of thyroid growths in children of Fukushima prefecture, Japan's Environment Ministry this week began thyroid gland tests on children in Nagasaki prefecture, across the central island of Honshu to the south. Those children will serve as a control group for kids undergoing similar tests in Fukushima prefecture. Fukushima's prefectural government one year ago launched what it intends to be a lifelong thyroid gland test program for 360,000 children who were aged 18 or under when the disaster began in March 2011. The Fukushima screening have been conducted on 115,000 children—about one third of the total number of children that will require testing. In July, it was revelaed that over 35% of the 38,114 then screened were found to have abnormal thyroid growths.
As expected, Xi Jinping was chosen as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Nov. 15. The process, concealed from domestic and international observers, and was thoroughly choreographed; Xi, the incoming president, and Li Keqiang, the new premier, were probably chosen years ago. The 2,270 delegates also named the new Central Committee, a ruling council of some 200 full members and 170 non-voting alternates. The leadership change happens every 10 years. The congress had an official theme of "Accelerating the Transformation of the Economic Growth Model," with the official report opening: "We need to expedite the improvement of the socialist market economic system." The target of doubling gross domestic product growth by 2020, set during the 16th congress, was raised to doubling both GDP and per capita income. Xi's remarks called for addressing "corruption" and "inequality," but made no mention of Marxism or Mao Zedong Thought. (China Digital Times, Xinhua, BBC World Service, Nov. 15; Caixin, IOL, BBC News, Nov. 14; Worldpress, Nov. 6)
It was the South Korean government that attempted on Oct. 22 to halt the planned balloon-drop of some 200,000 anti-North Korea pamphlets across the border into the DPRK by activists (similar to the parachute-drop of teddy bears into Belarus earlier this year). North Korea had threatened military action if the South Korean activists carried out their plan. In a post to its official Korean Central News Agency site, North Korean authorities stated that the plan "was directly invented by the group of traitors and is being engineered by the [S]outh Korean military," pledging that if any leaflets were detected on the north side of the border to respond with a "merciless military strike." So South Korean police closed roads and evacuated residents from the border zone—but activists nonetheless were successful in releasing the balloons, and no military response from the North has been initiated (yet).
Adam Minter of the Shanghai Scrap blog has a piece on Bloomberg casting doubt on recent reports of massive labor unrest at a Foxconn plant in China last week—an apparent sequel to the wildcat strikes last year. Minter asserts that the whole thing came down to a single Oct. 5 press release from China Labor Watch, which asserted that some 4,000 workers had walked off the job at a plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province. The grievances: "In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures."
Violent forced evictions in China are on the rise as local authorities seek to offset huge debts by seizing and then selling off land in suspect deals with property developers, Amnesty International said Oct. 11. In a new report, "Standing Their Ground" (PDF), Amnesty International highlights how forced evictions—a longstanding cause of discontent within China—have increased significantly in the past two years in order to clear the way for developments. Local governments have borrowed huge sums from state banks to finance stimulus projects and now rely on land sales to cover the payments. This has resulted in deaths, beatings, harassment and imprisonment of residents who have been forced from their homes across the country in both rural and urban areas. Some were in such despair they set themselves on fire in drastic protests of last resort.