East Asia Theater
A Japanese expert panel on July 5 issued a report claiming that the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was preventable. In the 641-page document the panel claims that the accident was not caused solely by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but the inability of the government, regulators and the Fukushima Daiichi plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), to act quickly enough to prevent the disaster. Among the criticized was also the then-Prime Minster Naoto Kan who resigned last year after a widespread criticism of his handling of the natural disaster and Fukushima nuclear crisis. The experts claimed that regulators have failed to adopt global safety standards that could have prevented the crisis.
Mass protests greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hong Kong July 1, as he swore in a new chief executive and cabinet for the territory. The official ceremony included a rare show of People's Liberation Army force in Hong Kong, with Hu reviewing passing columns of tanks and rocket launchers. The main demand of the demonstrators (estimated at 400,000) was an investigation into last month's suspicious death of labor activist and 1989 Tiananmen Square protester Li Wangyang. Police used pepper spray on protesters, and a reporter from Hong Kong's Apple Daily was detained after shouting out to Hu at a press conference: "Chairman Hu, have you heard that Hong Kong people hope to redress the June 4 incident?"—a reference to the 1989 protests. Hu's visit coincided with the 15th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong. (Epoch Times, VOA, NYT, July 1)
After six weeks without generating any nuclear power, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda this week succeeded in lobbying local authorities in Fukui prefecture to approve the restart of two reactors at the Ohi nuclear complex, raising the specter of widespread power shortages over the summer. The archipelago nation got more than 30% of its electrical energy from nuclear generation before the Fukushima disaster that gradually shut down the whole nuclear production network was shut for safety checks and upgrades after last year's Fukushima disaster. Activists opposing the return to nuclear power are holding a cross-country "March for Life" from Fukushima to Hiroshima—where they will meet with hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of August 1945. The dwindling hibakusha have re-emerged as a voice warning of the dangers of radiation since the Fukushima disaster. (LAT, 命の行進-2012, June 15)
The Fukushima nuclear disaster has almost completely gone off the world media's radar screen—despite the fact that it isn't over yet. It won brief coverage, at least, when the US National Academy of Sciences revealed last month that radiation from Fukushima had been detected in bluefin tuna caught off the California coast. "The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years," according to AP on May 30, while reassuring: "But even so, that's still far below safe-to-eat limits set by the US and Japanese governments." The perhaps more alarming news a few weeks earlier failed to win as much coverage—technicians have detected a leak the Reactor No. 1 containment vessel, with radioactive water almost certainly escaping into the environment. Reuters less than comfortingly tells us that plant operator TEPCO "may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years."
Tokyo's notoriously nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara is pushing a plan for the metropolitan government to purchase and annex the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—known to Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands, and claimed by China although under Japan's actual control. The uninhabited islands are now privately owned by the Kurihara family, who bought them decades ago from descendants of the previous Japanese owners. With East China Sea hydrocarbon resources at stake, the barren islands have become a flashpoint for Sino-Japanese brinkmanship—most recently in September 2010, when Japan Coast Guard patrol boats confronted a Chinese fishing vessel. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has received more than ¥1 billion in donations from citizens over the past month for its plan to buy the islands. The scheme is an implicit dig at the national government, which Ishihara accuses of not doing enough to defend the islands from China. But his explicit wrath was aimed at Beijing: "An endlessly hegemonic China is now trying to get control of the Pacific, and targeting Senkaku is one of the steps for doing that. We must lock the doors of the Japanese house more carefully when they have clearly shown their intention to intrude and steal things."
China arrested a few courageous activists who attempted to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, while any mention of the June 4, 1989 events was purged from the communications media with Orwellian completeness. BBC News tells us that authorities have again resorted to pre-emptive electronic action to head of protests, blocking Internet searches for terms such as "six-four," "23," "candle" and "never forget." Micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo has deactivated the candle emoticon, commonly adopted on the web to mourn deaths. Another BBC report, citing unnamed "rights campaigners," tells us that hundreds were rounded up in Beijing, while a delegation of some 30 who came from Zhejiang province to "petition" were met at a railway station by police who put them on a bus back to their hometown of Wuxi. Some 20 were also reported by AFP to have been arrested and beaten in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, when they attempted to gather in the city's May First Square.
The New York/Hong Kong-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) reports that You Minglei, a bank employee and independent activist in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, was taken into police custody last month on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power" after distributing political leaflets. He is apparently being held at Nanchang Municipal No. 2 Detention Center. Jiangxi-based independent election candidates Liu Ping and Li Sihua told HRIC that on April 27, You Minglei distributed the leaflets at Jiangxi Normal University, with the slogans, "Oppose communism and love our country; reinstate China; human rights are innate; freedom and democracy" (爱国反共、恢复中华、天赋人权、民主自由), as well as opposition figure Zhu Yufu's poem "It's Time." Hangzhou dissident Zhu Yufu was sentenced to seven years in prison for this poem and other activities in 2012.
Blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on April 27 succeeded in escaping from house arrest, under which had been held since September 2010 at his hometown in a rural area of China's Shandong province. From an unknown location, he issued a YouTube appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao, making three demands: that authorities investigate and punish those responsible for threats and violence against his family; that the security of his family be ensured; and a general crackdown on corruption.