East Asia Theater
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on North Korea's so-called "Day of the Sun" (April 15, the birthday of Kim Il-sung) only succeeded in winning rebukes from China—the DPRK regime's only, increasingly embarassed ally. China's official Xinhua news agency said that the test "marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere... Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."
Ge Yongxi, a civil rights defense lawyer, was detained and released April 15 by Chinese authorities for posts on social media that "poked fun" at President Xi Jinping in relation to the Panama Papers. The president's brother-in-law, Deng Jiagui, was named—along with a handful of elite Chinese citizens—in the data leak from a Panamanian law firm that exposed offshore accounts held by prominent politicians and others across the globe. Information about the Panama Papers has been censored across China with websites in that country "forbidden" from publishing material about the subject. Ge was also detained 10 months ago and questioned by authorities for being involved in a lawyers' rights movement.
A prominent veteran of the Tiananmen Square protests in China has dubbed US presidential hopeful Donald Trump a "privileged comeback king" and a threat to values of freedom that the United States represents. Taiwan-exiled Wuer Kaixi made his comments after Trump described the 1989 protest movement in Beijing as a "riot." Wuer Kaixi wrote on Facebook: "Speaking personally, after 27 years in exile from that 'riot'... I think I can speak for all fellow exiled and imprisoned Chinese in condemning Trump... I am not alone in appealing to the very same Americans who offered Chinese such as myself refuge when our own government deserted us to put aside partisan disputes and unite against Trump."
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou made a provocative visit Jan. 28 to Taiping Island in the South China Sea—the largest natural island in the dipsuted Spratly chain. Taiwan has controlled Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba) since 1946, but it is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam—and, significantly, China. The island is inhabited by only 200—all Taiwanese military personnel. In his visit, Ma boasted infrastructure developments, including a new hospital and a lighthouse—but his comments made clear this was aimed at establishing what the diplomats call "facts on the ground." The island already hosts fortifications, military barracks, a hospital, radar and satellite facilities. "All this evidence fully demonstrates that Taiping Island is able to sustain human habitation and an economic life of its own," Ma said in a press release. "Taiping Island is categorically not a rock, but an island." He also officially unveiled a monument during his visit, with an inscription reaing: "Peace in the South Seas, Eternally Secure the National Borders."
China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, passed a new anti-terrorism law on Dec. 27, requiring technology companies to provide decryption of any communication to officials on demand. Lawmakers insist this does not constitute the "backdoor" that was written into earlier versions of the legislation. But critics of the law, including international rights organizations and the US State Department, warn that it could restrict citizens' freedoms of expression and association because it is so broad in nature. US objections were blasted as "hypocritical" in a harshly worded editorial from China's state-run Xinhua News Agency. The law builds on a national security statute adopted in July that requires all network infrastructure to be "secure and controllable." The new law also restricts media from reporting on terrorist activity, and permits the People's Liberation Army to carry out anti-terrorism operations overseas. The law will take effect on Jan. 1. (The Diplomat, NBC, Dec. 29; Reuters, Jurist, Dec. 28; The Verge, Engadget, NYT, Xinhua, Dec. 27)
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has been released after receiving a suspended sentence on Dec. 22. Zhiqiang was indicted in May on charges of fanning ethnic hatred and provoking trouble for comments that he posted online. He stood trial on Dec. 14 after more than 19 months in detention. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but all three years have been suspended. The verdict will not take effect for 10 days, during which time he will be under residential surveillance. The guilty verdict disqualifies Pu from practicing law and forces him to follow certain restrictions for a three-year period or risk imprisonment.
At least 20 Guangdong-based labor advocates have been detained over the past week in police sweeps. Eight are believed to remain in detention, either formally or under some kind of house arrest. Those who remain in custody include Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers' Center in the provincial capital Guangzhou; He Xiaobo, who runs the Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center, a support group for injured workers in Foshan; and Zhu Xiaomei, a woman from the same organization who is the mother of a one-year-old baby. Also being held are Deng Xiaoming, from the Haige Workers' Services Center, and Peng Jiayong, who runs the Panyu Laborer Mutual Aid Group. Chen Huihai, also a leader of the Haige group, is believed to be under house arrest.
Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has issued a call to her fellow lawmakers to act on restitution of traditional lands to the country's aboriginal peoples. Her comments came at a press conference Nov. 24 where she was joined by Pastor Kavas, a member of the Bunun people, who said he had been harassed by security forces as he attempted to guide a small group of scholars into a forested area usurped from the Bunun. Kavas said that while guiding National Taitung University professor Liu Chiung-shi and his assistants through the forest near Jiaming Lake in Taitung county, they were stopped by a dozen police officers, who arrested the academics, citing a breach of "national security." Ironically, despite having been designated a restricted area by the Ministry of National Defense in 1993, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, Kavas said. He called restriction of Bunun access to the area "beyond belief."