East Asia Theater
With all eyes on the crisis between North and South Korea, the international media have largely overlooked growing tensions between both Koreas and Japan. On April 5, Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest against Japan's renewed territorial claim to the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan. The protest came after Tokyo issued a formal claim over the Seoul-controlled easternmost islets through approval of a diplomatic report that stated: "Takeshima is clearly Japanese territory in light of historical facts and under an international law." In a separate protest days earlier, Seoul lodged a complaint over new textbooks approved in Japan that emphasize Tokyo's claim to the islets while downplaying Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. (Dong-a Ilbo, April 6; Xinhua, April 5; AsiaOne, March 27)
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test Dec. 12, exploding what is paradoxically being called a "miniaturized" device that nonetheless packed a greater explosive force than those the DPRK set off in 2006 and 2009. "We can assume this is roughly twice as big in magnitude," said Lassina Zerbo of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitored from afar the underground blast at the Punggye-ri test site in the DPRK's northeast mountains. Pyongyang said the test was an act of self-defense against "US hostility." South Korea, which placed its US-backed military on alert after the test, said it would fast-track development of longer-range missiles that can reach the whole of North Korea. "We will speed up the development of ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers," a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters.
More than 1,000 migrant workers in Shanghai went on strike and held 18 managers hostage for a day and a half following a dispute over the introduction of a draconian new disciplinary policy, which including strict time limits on bathroom breaks and fines for being late. Hundreds of riot police were mobilized to the Shanghai Shinmei Electric Company plant, after workers seized the complex Jan. 18 and held captive 10 Japanese nationals and eight Chinese managers. To give them a taste of their own medicine, the managers were prevented from using the toilet for the duration of their detention. They were released unharmed after the bosses agreed to withdraw the new speed-up policy, issued an apology for its introduction, and promised a pay raise. However, clashes broke out between workers and police after the managers were released, leaving several workers hospitalized, including with broken bones. (LibCom.org, Jan. 23; AP, Jan. 22; South China Morning Post, Jan. 21)
Contractors could be illegally dumping radioactive soil, vegetation and water into rivers and open areas near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Japan's Environment Ministry admitted Jan. 4. The ministry said it will summon senior officials from companies contracted by the Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration to answer questions on how they manage contaminated waste following claims of illegal dumping in the coastal town of Naraha, the evacuated village of Iitate, and the inland in the city of Tamura. Under a law passed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, illegal dumping of contaminated substances may be punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to ¥10 million. "It is very regrettable if that is true," Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said of the suspected dumping at his first news conference of 2013. (Kyodo, Jan. 5)
Japan scrambled fighter jets on Dec. 13 after a Chinese maritime aircraft entered airspace over the disputed islands known as the Senkaku to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to China. The Japanese defense ministry said the incident was the first violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese official aircraft since 1958. "It is extremely deplorable," said Osamua Fujimura, Japan’s chief government spokesman. Kyodo News quoted Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura that the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration was spotted near the Uotsuri Island at 11:06 AM local time, and Japan's Air Self-Defense Force responded by dispatching F-15 jets. The response was of course prosted by Beijing. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Flying a marine surveillance airplane in airspace above the Diaoyu Islands is completely normal. China urges Japan to stop illegal actions in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands. The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China's inherent territory. The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into water and airspace around the islands." (Japan Today, FT, BBC News, Dec. 13)
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...