East Asia Theater
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.
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.