East Asia Theater
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.