East Asia Theater
OK, we have no doubt that The Interview is an abominably bad movie, and it is very irksome to have to agree with David Cameron, who is grandstanding about how Sony's pulling of the film is a threat to freedom of expression. Hollywood actors have been making similar noises. And of course this is being played up by the UK's right-wing The Telegraph and imperial mouthpiece Voice of America. But they happen to be correct. The fact that the movie is (probably—we won't be able to see it to tell for ourselves) ugly propaganda doesn't mitigate the fact that Sony's capitulation sets a very bad precedent. (Communities Digital News recalls the 1988 controversy over right-wing Christian threats against The Last Temptation of Christ.) Note that the supression is so complete that The Interview's official website is down, redirecting to the Sony Pictures homepage, and the trailer has been removed from YouTube. All this due to a bunch of almost certainly empty if bombastic ("Remember the 11th of September 2001") threats from an Orwellianly named and probably functionally non-existent cell, the "Guardians of Peace." Homeland Security said it has no evidence to suggest these threats would be carried out, reports Variety. But Sony folded like the proverbial house of cards, while issuing a statement complaining of being "the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault." This assault also includes the hack of Sony's computers, which US officials do say has been tracked to North Korea. (AP) But the notion that the DPRK has a network of sleeper cells across the USA... well, it sounds like a bad movie.
Student leaders Lester Shum and Joshua Wong were among 116 people detained late Nov. 26 as police cleared protest sites in Hong Kong's Mong Kok commercial district. Skirmishes between police and protesters broke out when a group refused to leave the site. (China Digital Times) The pepper spray used by Hong Kong police against the protesters (which won the movement its umbrella icon) was likely made by the Sabre company—its headquarters just oustide Ferguson, Mo., now exploding into protest over the failure of a grand jury to indict the police officer who killed Black youth Mike Brown. Sabre (slogan: "Making grown men cry since 1975") is owned by Security Equipment Corp of Fenton. Mo., and claims to be the world's top police supplier of pepper spray. Sabre supplies police forces from Hong Kong to Uruguay, as well as the St. Louis city and county. (Quartz) In appealing to the police to refrain from brutality, Hong Kong protesters have adopted the slogan from the Ferguson protest movement, "Hands up, don't shoot!" (Vox, Sept. 28)
Following weeks of secret negotiations, the US and China on Nov. 12 announced a new agreement to reduce greenhouse gas output. Under the pact, the US seeks to reduce emissions up to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. This new goal is up from a previous target to cut emissions 17% by 2020, from 2005 levels. China did not set a specific target, but said CO2 emissions would peak by 2030. That year was also set by China for a 20% increase in the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption. The agreement marks the first time that China, now the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to cap its emissions. The two countries together produce about 45% of the world's carbon dioxide, although the US produces far more than China in per capita terms.
Having receded from the global headlines, the pro-democracy protesters have not receded from the streets of Hong Kong. Nov. 6 saw new clashes with police in street occupations that have now persisted for more than a month and a half. The skirmish came in the commercial district of Mong Kok, after police attempted to arrest a man they said was shining his mobile phone light in their eyes. In the ensuing confrontation, at least one protester was left bleeding from the head. (AP, Nov. 6) That night in New York City, the Lower Manhattan office of the New America Foundation hosted a screening of Lessons in Dissent, a new film focusing on two teenagers who have emerged as leaders of the Hong Kong protests, Joshua Wong and Ma Jai. The film was released just before the Occupy Central movement finally went into action, but depicts the precursor struggle in 2012, when students organized against proposed constitutional reforms in the territory that would limit freedom, and a mandatory "national education" curriculum they saw as propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party. The protests were successful; the constitutional changes were shelved, and the new curriculum was made optional. The film's two protagonists are still at it—Wong having risen to global attention.
"Dozens of mainlanders were taken away by the police because they openly supported Occupy Central and at least ten of them have been detained… They are in Jiangxi, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, etc," Hong Kong-based blogger and journalist Annie Zhang posted on her Facebook page on Oct. 1, the 65th National Day of the People's Republic of China. (ChinaFile, Oct. 3) The group Human Rights In China has documented at least seven mainlanders detained for expressing support for Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement. These include the poet Wang Zang, who has become a vocal supporter of Occupy Central. Wuhan rights activist Wang Fang was taken away by police after posting photos of herself raising placards in support of Occupy Central at the Beijing south station. Beijing rights defender Han Ying was taken from her home by police after posting messages of solidarity with Occupy Central on Weibo. Also detained after posting photos of the Occupy Central movement on Weibo is Shenzhen activist Wang Long, who sued China Unicom earlier this year for blocking access to Google. Shanghai activist Shen Yanqiu was detained after posting photos of herself with a shaved head in support for the Hong Kong protesters. (Shanghaiist, Oct. 5; HRIC, Oct. 3; Channel News Asia, Oct. 1)
Instagram has been blocked in mainland China since Sept. 28, in an evident attempt to stop images of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as street clashes entered their third day. Following repression of the massive Occupy Central demonstration, thousands of people have remained on the streets of Hong Kong, defying tear gas and ignoring orders to disperse. Overnight, riot police advanced on crowds who ignored official warnings that the demonstrations were illegal. In what can be read as a veiled threat, Hong Kong's chief executive CY Leung reassured the public that rumors the Chinese army might intervene are untrue. (Shanghaiist, Sept. 29; BBC News, Sept. 28)
Chinese writer Huang Zerong, 81, known also by his pen name Tie Liu, was detained by Chinese authorities Sept. 14 for allegedly publishing articles critical of Communist Party propaganda chief Liu Yunshan (Brookings backgrounder). According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the 81-year-old writer was criminally detained on charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble.'" Huang spent 23 years in prison after being labeled a "rightist" by the Chinese regime during Mao Zedong's crackdown on liberals. His name was later cleared by the Communist Party in 1980.
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)