East Asia Theater
As Donald Trump and and Kim Jong-un exchange nuclear threats, anti-missile protesters in rural South Korea scored a win, prompting Seoul to delay plans to expand the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery that the Pentagon installed in April. On Aug. 10, the South Korean government announced indefinite postponement of a study to measure levels of noise and electromagnetic pollution from the THAAD anti-ballistic missile system, responding to an ongoing protest campaign by local residents and activists. The ministries of National Defense and Environment planned to begin the survey in the village of Seongju, where the battery has been placed, on the same day the postponement was announced. The announcement came as villagers and activists were blocking the road to the THAAD base.
Authorities in Qingyuan, in China's Guangdong province, canceled a planned waste incinerator project after days of angry mass protests repeatedly shook the city. Clashes erupted after thousands of residents from the outlying township of Feilaixia joined students and market workers in Qingyuan's downtown area May 7. Riot police fired tear-gas and used batons to try to disperse the crowds, but protesters only re-grouped elsewhere—even after hundreds were arrested. Residents accused authorities of failing to consult with local communities in the project, which was slated for Shili village, adjacent to Feilaixia. On May 10, as protests continued to escalate, the city government announced that it had decided to drop the plan. (EJ Insight, Hong Kong, May 11; RFA, May 8)
Protesters clashed with police in South Korea's rural Seongju county as US forces began installing the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system April 27. Local residents attempted to block roads to impede the military trucks bringing in components for the system, with signs reading "No THAAD, No War" and "Hey, US! Are you friends or occupying troops?" The US and South Korean governments are hurrying to have the THAAD operational before presidential election on May 9, as candidates still dispute the controversial deployment. The installation began in an unannounced operation in the early morning hours. Some 8,000 police troops were deployed to clear roads as the equipment was moved to Seongju, in North Gyeongsang province. It is now revealed that the components had been quietly shipped to Busan last month and kept in storage until now. They include a high-powered radar that will be used to track incoming missiles. (Chosun Ilbo, TeleSur)
The latest annual Amnesty International report on global use of the death penalty actually has some heartening news. For the first time since 2006, the United States did not make the top five executioners in 2016—falling to seventh, behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US constituted the lowest number in the country since 1991. Most executions last year took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan—in that order. And after three years in a row of global executions surging, they appear to have dropped off in 2016. Not including data from China, Amnesty counts 1,032 executions throughout the world in 2016—more than 600 fewer than in 2015.
As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) released its annual report (PDF) Feb. 16, highlighting an intensified crackdown on rights defenders in the People's Republic. According to the CHRD, rights activities are being criminalized as "political threats to national security." The report documents a number of practices used by the government, such as enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and acts of torture against rights defenders. It points particularly to those secretly detained in the July 2015 arrests of lawyers, known as the "709 Crackdown." CHRD stated: "Not only have authorities denied detainees access to counsel, they have increasingly pressured detainees to dismiss their own lawyers or those hired by their families, and use government appointed lawyers instead."
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.