East Asia Theater
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.
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)