East Asia Theater
Weeks of relentless and massive street protests in South Korea finally succeeded in bringing about the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye Dec. 9 as the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to charge her with corruption and mishandling of state affairs. The country's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold or invalidate the impeachment. Protesters pledge they will continue to press for President Park to step down, which would automatically spark new elections. The protests have been ongoing since October, repeatedly mobilizing hundreds of thousands across the country. On Dec. 4, up to 1.7 million filled the streets of downtown Seoul, within sight of the Blue House presidential residence. There have been scattered street clashes, but the tone of the protests is overwhelmingly peaceful, even joyous. University professors have played a leading role. The protests coincided with rolling strikes by public-sector workers over labor demands, with hospitals and transport heavily affected. The impeachment is a victory for transparency; Park is accused of conniving with a crony for illicit enrichment through abuse of government power. (Korea Policy Institute, Dec. 10; WP, Dec. 8; Korea Policy Institute, Nov. 30; Korea Times, Nov. 27)
We aren't sure how much method to place in Donald Trump's madness. Right on the heels of the outrage over his diplomatically incorrect telephone conversation with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen comes word that he's appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the next US ambassador to China—news that will apparently be welcome in Beijing. The New York Times says that Branstad describes China's exceptionally authoritarian President Xi Jinping as an "old friend." Reuters tells us Branstad said he's had a "30-year friendship" with Xi, and added: "The president-elect understands my unique relationship to China." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson reciprocated the warmth, calling Branstad an "old friend" of China.
A group of UN human rights experts called on the Chinese government Dec. 6 to investigate the disappearance of a prominent human rights lawyer. Jiang Tianyong has been missing since Nov. 21, after he visited the family of another human rights lawyer who has been detained since a "crackdown" on political dissidents last summer. UN experts are concerned that Jiang has been detained, possibly while traveling on a train bound for Beijing following his visit with the detained lawyer's family in Changsha. In February 2011 Jiang was detained for two months by Chinese authorities, during which he claims to have been beaten and tortured. Human rights activists claim that the crackdown in China is part of a larger effort to silence political dissidents. Jiang rose to prominence for his involvement in high profile cases, defending human rights activists, legal activists, HIV/AIDS sufferers, Tibetan protesters and other vulnerable groups.
This is very telling. While Kremlin mouthpiece RT is now bashing the anti-Trump protesters in the US, China Daily is gushing with enthusiasm for them. At first, this seems a little counter-intuitive. In some obvious ways, Trump's victory is good news for Beijing. Trump says he will pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on his first day in the White House. (BBC News) On the campaign trail, he blasted the TPP as "a disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country." (ChinaWorker) Beijing views the TPP as a bid for US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, and a reaction to China's territorial ambitions and superpower aspirations. Just as the US-backed TPP excludes China, Beijing is pushing a rival Pacific Rim trade initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), that excludes the United States. After the US election results, China's Commerce Ministry announced a new push to conclude negotiations on the RCEP. (Reuters)
The Chinese government on Nov. 7 approved a controversial cybersecurity law that the government says will protect Internet users and minimize fraud—over the protests of international human rights organizations. Calling the law "draconian," Human Rights Watch says it bolsters censorship measures and requires companies to monitor and report vague "network security incidents" and store personal information on users. On the business front, James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, called the law a "step backwards." Many believe it will make it harder for foreign business to operate within China, as the law also requires that companies "demonstrate" that they can withstand hacks and are open to more government scrutiny.
On Aug. 1, Indigenous People's Day, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology to Taiwan's aboriginal peoples for centuries of oppression, and outlined her policies for reconciliation. In a ceremony attended by leaders of aboriginal communities from throughout the island, she said: "For the past 400 years, each regime that came to Taiwan has brutally violated indigenous people's existing rights through military might and land looting." She pledged that her government will give indigenous communities greater autonomy, improve their land rights, and work to preserve native languages.
The mayor of Xiantao in central China's Hubei province announced suspension of a waste incinerator project after a wave of protests—but residents continue to take to the streets in defiance of authorities. Mayor Zhou Wenxia in a rare public address announcing the suspension June 26 urged residents not to attend "illegal gatherings" or engage in "irrational actions." Some 10,000 people nonetheless filled the streets. Protests have conintued since then, with several injured in clashes with riot police. Authorities have flooded Xiantao with riot troops and placed restrictions on use of instant messaging and the Internet to organize "illegal gatherings" and demonstrations.
The annual Hong Kong vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre took place June 4 amid a split, with the city's biggest student union boycotting. The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) broke from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, to emphasize a "localist" position. An estimated 125,000 attended the vigil in Victoria Park, compared to 135,000 last year. Disturbingly, a localist protester even rushed the stage at the event, seizing a microphone to exhort: "We don't want a democratic China, we want Hong Kong independence!"