East Asia Theater
Chinese authorities arrested 12 individuals Aug. 27 for illegally storing dangerous materials that led to the Tianjin warehouse explosions, which killed at least 139. Those arrested include Yu Xuewei, chairman of Tianjin International Ruihai Logistics Co Ltd, and Zeng Fanqiang, an employee with a safety firm. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security alleged that the safety firm illegally allowed warehouse owner Tianjin Ruihai to pass safety evaluations and obtain hazardous materials without actually meeting the safety requirements. Eleven other officials are under investigation for alleged neglect of duty and abuse of power relating to the explosion of 700 tons of sodium cyanide and other chemicals.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared a "quasi-state of war" after convening an emergency meeting of his military leaders, with the Korean People's Army (KPA) "ready to launch surprise operations," the North's official KCNA agency reported Aug. 21. There are ominous reports that the KPA is preparing a missile strike on the South. Preparations at missile launch sites near Pyongyang were reportedly detencted by South Korean and US military monitors. The escalation comes following an exchange of artillery fire across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Aug. 20. Tensions have been rising since an Aug. 4 incident that saw two South Korean soldiers severely wounded by a mine explosion along the DMZ, with Seoul and the UN Command claiming North Korea troops intentionally placed the mine on a path known to be used by South Korean patrols. In response, South Korea has renewed anti-DPRK propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ. Media reports in the West are not emphasizing that the esclation also comes amid the joint US-South Korea "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" military exercise. The annual exercise, which runs from Aug. 17-28, involves 30,000 US troops and 50,000 South Korean. According to a statement from the Combined Forces Command (CFC) in South Korea, UFG is "a routine and defense-oriented exercise designed to enhance CFC readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula." The exercise was briefly suspended following the artillery exchange, but has now been resumed. (NK News, NK News, Business Insider, Aug. 21; Asia Times, Aug. 20)
The Education Ministry in Taipei has been blockaded by student protesters for five days now, and the ministry has opened talks with protest leaders. The protests were launched to oppose textbook revisions that would emphasize the "One China" view of history. Protesters attempted to occupy the ministry building on July 23; after being ejected they returned a week later, tore down a fence and established an encampment in the courtyard. The protest camp has been maintained since July 30. The action was partially sparked by the suicide of student activist Lin Kuanhua, who was among those arrested in the July 23 action. The protests have drawn comparison to last year's Sunflower Movement, in which the Legislative Yuan was occupied for 24 days to oppose the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), decried as a "black box" deal with China that the ruling Kuomintang attempted to push through undemocratically. The new "black box" textbooks would reportedly emphasize that Taiwan is part of the "Republic of China," portrayed as the rightful government of all mainland China—even refering to the RoC's capital as Nanjing and its highest mountains as the Himalayas. Protesters are demanding that the textbook revisions be dropped and that Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa resign. (Channel NewsAsia, New Bloom, Aug. 3)
China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.
Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.
At least five Chinese lawyers from a human rights law firm were detained on July 11 after being accused of running a criminal syndicate and smear campaign against the Communist Party. The arrests come amid President Xi Jinping's attempts to discredit the rights defense movement which has been challenging the government through protests and litigation. Amnesty International reported that it is believed that more than 50 human rights lawyers and activists have been targeted by authorities for detention and questioning since a nationwide crackdown began July 9.
China's top legislature, the NPC Standing Committee, on July 1 adopted a controversial new National Security Law that increases cyber security powers. At its bi-monthly session, 155 members of the committee voted on the measure. The law will increase overseeing of the Internet in China, and authorities will now take tougher measures against cyber attacks, thefts and the spread of "harmful information." The law is one of three adopted in recent months to improve China's security and "strengthen ideological control over the public." The law also includes a cyberspace "sovereignty" clause, which covers assets and activities in space, the deep sea and the polar regions. Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the NPC, stated that the law is extremely important due to increasing security problems within China.
China's ex-security minister Zhou Yongkang was found guilty June 11 of bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was also stripped of his political rights for life and has had his assets confiscated. A year after Zhou's retirement in 2012, he was put under investigation as part of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign. In a trail that was largely kept secret, Zhou was found to have accepted bribes of about 130 million yuan ($21.3 million) in return for leaking five highly confidential documents. Senior officials convicted of serious crimes within China are typically sentenced to death. This was apparently waived due to Zhou's cooperation in returning all monies.