East Asia Theater
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."
Beijing's Third Intermediate People's Court on Nov. 27 released journalist Gao Yu on medical parole after the Higher People's Court upheld her conviction for leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website. Though she did receive medical parole as a result of her health, the courts have refused to overturn her conviction which means she may still serve her sentence outside of prison. The Higher People's Court upheld the conviction on Nov. 26, also reducing her sentence from seven years to five. The trial of the seventy one year old freelance journalist prompted concerns from the international community who viewed the prosecution as part of a continued crackdown on journalism and free speech rights. Gao admitted to leaking the document at issue [concerning what was discussed at a closed meeting], though [independent news website] Mingjing News contends that it did not receive the document from her. Yu, who has been detained since 2014, received her initial sentence in April at which time she had plead not guilty.
Okinawa's Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval issued by his predecessor for a landfill to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new site at the island's Cape Henoko. Sit-in protestors in front of Camp Schwab Marine Base at Henoko rejoiced as the announcement came over a live radio broadcast. Some took over the roadway to perform the island's traditional Kachashi dance in jubilation. Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, voiced defiance of anticipated efforts by Japan's central government to override the decision: "We will not lose to the governments of Japan and the United States. With the governor, we will continue to struggle to stop construction of the new US base." In March, Gov. Onaga had issued a stop-work order on the relocation, which the central government overruled. Protesters are demanding that the US Marines leave Okinawa entirely. (Kyodo, Oct. 14; BBC News, Ryukyu Shimpo, Oct. 13)
The House of Councillors, Japan's upper house of parliament, on Sept. 19 approved a measure that allows the Self Defense Forces to deploy troops abroad for the first time since World War II. The legislation passed the lower house of the Diet in July. The law was backed by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition. The measure faced substantial opposition within Japan and protestors gathered outside the parliament the day before the vote. Opponents of the bill are upset that the law contradicts pacifist provisions in the constitution of Japan, specifically Article 9, which states: "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." Abe argues that the national military must take a more active role in order to strengthen its position against growing military power in China and a nuclear-armed North Korea. The government put limits on military deployments in the new law, but critics argue those limitations are extremely vague.