East Asia Theater
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.
It's hard to imagine it could come to a shooting war in this age of economic interpenetration, but both sides are sure acting like they're itching for one. Weeks after Obama announced what the media have dubbed the Pentagon's "return to Asia" (we call it a New Cold War with China), Russia and China team up for joint naval maneuvers in the Yellow Sea, northern inlet of the East China Sea. (See map.) Simultaneously, the US and Philippine navies hold their own joint exercises in the South China Sea, a drill dubbed "Balikatan," meaning"shoulder-to-shoulder" in the Tagalog language. Both dills involve multiple warships and thousands of troops. The Sino-Russian drill is being carried out under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional body established after the Soviet collapse to counter-balance the US presence in Asia and the Pacific.
A Beijing court on April 10 sentenced Chinese housing activist and lawyer Ni Yulan to two years and eight months in prison on charges of fraud and "inciting a disturbance" in Beijing. Ni's husband, Dong Jiqin, was also sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges. Ni and her husband had assisted victims of government land seizures, including those displaced by the Beijing Olympics project, prior to their arrest in August 2011. Amnesty International called for Ni and her husband's immediate release, saying that that charges are false and meant to punish Yulan for her activist work. Ni has been confined to a wheelchair since 2002, when prison guards beat her severely while she was serving one of two prior prison sentences. In poor health, lying on a stretcher and relying on an oxygen machine, Ni pleaded not guilty at her trial in December. Although a court spokesperson indicated the trial was open to the public, foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from the proceedings.
Did you happen to notice this one? Just before last month's notorious purge of Bo Xilai, the populist Chinese Communist Party chief in Chongqing, World Bank President Robert Zoellick lectured the People's Republic that its economic model is "unsustainable," and it is in danger of falling into a so-called "middle-income trap" if it fails to reform. "This is not the time just for muddling through," Zoellick said at a late February Bejing conference. "It's time to get ahead of events and to adapt to major changes in the world and national economies." At the conference, the World Bank submitted a hefty report making policy recommendations—of course with special criticism for the state sector. (LAT, Feb. 27) Further details on the report are provided by the NY Times Economix blog March 5, via the Trade Reform website: