East Asia Theater
In a slightly surreal case, Kyodo news agency reports April 20 that a Shanghai Maritime Court ordered the seizure of a vessel owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui OSK Lines at a port in Zhejiang province for failing to pay compensation in "a wartime contractual dispute." It seems that in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co, rented two ships on a one-year contract from China's Zhongwei Shipping Co. The ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and later sank at sea. The suit was brought against Mitsui by grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping, and has been batted around in China's courts for years. In 2012, the Supreme People's Court rejected Mitsui's petition for retrial, affirming the Maritime Court's finding that the company must pay. The decision to seize the ships now seems pretty clearly retaliation for Japanese cabinet minister Keiji Furuya's visit to the Yasukuni shrine days earlier. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself sent a "ritual offering" to the shrine ahead of Japan's spring festival, which starts this week. All of this is happening (again less than coincidentally) exactly as Japan has started construction of a military radar station on Yonaguni Island—just 150 kilometers from the disputed gas-rich Senkaku archipelago, claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. (Reuters, Singapore Today, Xinhua, BBC News)
Hundreds of students remain barricaded in Taiwan's Legislature in protest of the ruling party's push for a Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement with the People's Republic of China. Protesters, most of them college students, stormed into the assembly hall of the Legislative Yuan, breaking the glass doors and blocking the entrances by piling up lawmakers' chairs to prevent police from entering. The protesters also took over the podium and rostrum in the chamber. The action was prompted March 18 when the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) cut short review of the trade agreement and sent the pact directly to the plenary session for its second reading. In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) boycotted the plenary session. Student leader Fei-fan Lin, speaking at a press conference, said: "We want the agreement to be recinded—not just back to the committee, but we want it thrown out, and tell China we are not signing this." (China Post, March 20; Taipei Times, CNN, VOA, March 19; Ketagalan Media, March 18)
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)