East Asia Theater
Security forces have since Dec. 11 blocked roads leading to the village of Wukan, in China's Guangdong province, after residents chased out police. Residents have gathered in the center of the village, the scene of a peasant protest movement over a land grab by local officials. They are demanding negotiations with the central government to resolve the dispute. Chinese authorities have again resorted to pre-emptive electronic action, blocking Internet searches for "Wukan." Users of micro-blogging site Sina Weibo say searches for "Wukan" returns a message reading: "According to relevant law, regulations and policies, search results for Wukan cannot be displayed."
In a frightening development that has received appallingly little coverage in English, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) released the results of a study Nov. 30 finding that melted fuel at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor has nearly reached the bottom steel wall under the concrete at the base of the containment structure. TEPCO estimates the fuel rods have already melted through the concrete base of the reactor container by up to 65 centimeters. If the melt-through continues another 37 centimeters, it will reach the steel wall. If it melts through that, it will be released into the soil, and likely the groundwater.
Waves of wildcat strikes continue to spread across China's industrial heartland. More than 200 workers at a Singapore-owned electronics plant in Shanghai remained on strike for a third day Dec. 2 to protest a management plan for mass layoffs and a plant relocation. Blue-jacketed workers, chanting slogans and holding banners demanding management accountability, blocked the entrance to the factory owned by Hi-P International, whose customers include Apple and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. (Reuters, Dec. 2)
In factory towns across China's Pearl River Delta industrial zone in Guangdong province, thousands of workers walked off the job this week in response to belt-tightening measures imposed by slowing orders from the West. Some 1,000 workers are striking at the Jingmo Electronics Corporation’s Shenzhen factory, located in the industrial district of Shajing township and owned by the Taiwan-based Jingyuan Computer Group. Workers are protesting mandatory overtime with no overtime pay, as well as the high rate of workplace injuries, abusive treatment by managers, mass layoffs of older workers and the lack of any benefits. At Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings' giant shoe factory in Huangjiang town—a major supplier for sports brand New Balance—some 8,000 workers took to the streets Nov. 24, blocking roads, overturning cars and clashing with police. The Federation of Hong Kong Industries has warned that up to a third of around 50,000 Hong Kong-owned factories in Guangdong and elsewhere in China could downsize or close by the end of the year, putting at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs. (Reuters, The Telegraph, Nov. 25; China Labor Watch, Nov. 23)
Inspired by the global Occupation movement, a group of mostly women protesters from all over Japan are camping in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district to oppose nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The camp, established Oct. 30, also embraces the economic demands of the wider movement. (Panorient News, Nov. 5)
US President Barack Obama announced his decision to send 2,500 troops to be stationed in Australia in a speech before the parliament in Canberra Nov. 17—a move widely seen as a counter-balance to China's growing power in the Asia-Pacific region. China's People’s Daily warned in an editorial: "If Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire." Obama's announcement symbolically comes on the 60th anniversary of the Cold War-era Australia-New-Zealand-United-States (ANZUS) defense treaty. Obama did hold previously unscheduled and seemingly amicable talks two days later with Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. But Obama's Australia move also comes days after a congressional advisory panel, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, warned of Beijing's growing military presence in Asia.
Farmers staged sit-in protests at five regional offices of lawmakers of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party on Nov. 9, demanding no ratification of the new US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. "The protests are to denounce the GNP, which is moving to ratify the FTA that will surely devastate the local agricultural industry," said a leader of the Korea Farmers League’s branch for North Gyeongsang province, which organized the protests. "We will mount a campaign against those lawmakers who vote in favor of the deal." (Korea Herald, Nov. 9) Days earlier, police in Seoul fired water cannons to disperse more than 2,000 protesters who tried to break into the National Assembly as lawmakers debated FTA ratification. (AP, Nov. 3)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said Nov. 1 it had begun injecting water and boric acid into Reactor No. 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, after detecting signs of fission. The injection was ordered after analysis of gas samples from the reactor building indicated the presence of xenon 133 and xenon 135, byproducts of a nuclear reaction. "We cannot deny the possibility of a small nuclear fission reaction," TEPCO spokesman Hiroki Kawamata said. The temperature in reactor No. 2 had been brought to below 100 degrees C, one of the conditions for the utility to declare "cold shutdown." TEPCO and the government had said they were on track to bring the damaged reactors to cold shutdown by the end of the year. (AFP, Bloomberg, Nov. 2)