East Asia Theater
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!"
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."