East Asia

Umbrella activists convicted in Hong Kong

Nine leading activists of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement were convicted under colonial-era “public nuisance” laws, concluding the city’s most politically charged trial in years. The nine may face up to seven years in prison. They include the famous “Occupy Trio”—legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong’s history, with thousands occupying the city’s central districts for several weeks between September and December 2014.

East Asia

Japan to proceed with relocation of US base

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the relocation of the US airbase at Futenma to Henoko, elsewhere on the island of Okinawa, would continue despite a referendum vote opposing the move. Okinawa prefecture held a referendum vote on whether the US military base should relocate from Ginowan municipality to Henoko. After the final count, approximately 70% of voters opposed the move. The relocation has been 20 years in preparation, and has continued to face opposition over claims of noise from military activity, harm to the surrounding coral reefs, and outrage over a 1995 incident of rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by US servicemen. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki plans to make a visit to Tokyo to reaffirm the island's position. (Photo via Alwaght)

East Asia

Taiwan indigenous people tell Xi: hands off

Leaders of Taiwan's indigenous peoples issued a joint statement directed at Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan "must and will" be united with China, and darkly alluded to the use of force. The indigenous leaders retorted that their peoples inhabited the island for thousands of years before the first Han Chinese settlers reached its shores. "We are the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and have lived in Taiwan, our motherland, for more than six thousand years," the letter says. "We are not ethnic minorities within the so-called 'Chinese nation.'" The statement, entitled "Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan to President Xi Jinping of China," further asserts: "Taiwan is the sacred land where generations of our ancestors lived and protected it with their lives. It has never belonged to China… We have fought against imperialism and every foreign intruder of our land. We have suffered military suppression from colonial and authoritarian regimes… We have never given up our rightful claim to the sovereignty of Taiwan… [W]e the Taiwanese indigenous peoples will not be threatened and will make no concessions." (Photo of Bunum people via Mata Taiwan)

East Asia

North Korea political prisoners betrayed at summit

In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, survivors of Kim Jong-un's prisons and concentration camps called for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. They recalled a 2014 UN report finding that up to 120,000 were being held in prison camps in North Korea, subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Of course, Trump breathed not a word about human rights at the meeting, but came away crowing about his "special bond" with Kim. And despite the fact that the agreement to come out of the meeting contained no specific commitments to move toward de-nuclearization of the peninsula (only vague expressions of principle), some peaceniks are already paradoxically cheering the right-wing demagogue who so recently threatened to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea. (Map of North Korea's principal concentration camps via One Free Korea)

East Asia

Fear of ‘Asian Chernobyl’ in DPRK stand-down?

The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down its Punggye-ri test site, saying it has "finished its mission."  But despite this face-saving rhetoric, reports suggest cessation of the program could be motivated by fear of a disaster at the Punggye-ri site. Geological experts warn that the site may have become fatigued and unstable from the nuclear tests, and could be in danger of collapse. After the last nuclear test in September, there were reports that a tunnel at the facility had collapsed, killing 200 workers. Observers also cited the fear of a "Chernobyl-style" meltdown at the North's reactors where plutonium is produced for the weapons program, placing 100 million people across northeast Asia in "mortal danger."  (Map: Federation of American Scientists)

East Asia

Free speech threatened in Taiwan: martyr’s kin

Pressure from China, restrictive legislation and self-censorship among Taiwanese youth have emerged as threats to freedom of speech in Taiwan, according to Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation director Cheng Tsing-hua. He made his comments on Taiwan's Free Speech Day, April 7, which commemorates the day in 1989 that his brother Cheng Nan-jung, a young democracy advocate under the one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang, self-immolated as a protest against government restrictions on freedom of expression. Cheng's observations are sobering, as Taiwan has emerged as a last bastion of free speech in the Chinese-speaking world with the closing of political space in Hong Kong. (Image montage from Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation via FathomTaiwan)

East Asia

Brink looms closer in East Asia maritime theaters

Japan has activated its first amphibious marine unit since World War II, which conducted practice drills to defend the disputed Senkaku Islands from an anticipated Chinese military seizure. Meanwhile, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, with a group of Philippine generals onboard, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea, where China is building military defenses on islands claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Another carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in anti-submarine drills with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew—the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. (Map via IDSA)

East Asia

Podcast: Xi Jinping’s totalitarian capitalism

In Episode Five of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that despite the official ideology of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and the revival of rhetoric and imagery from the Mao era, media commentators are off base in their comparison of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong. The new personalistic dictatorship of Xi is appropriating the outward forms of Maoism, but whereas the Great Helmsman used totalitarian methods to advance socialism (at least in terms of his own intentions) Xi is doing so to further entrench China's savage capitalist system. As a part of the same constitutional changes that have installed Xi as the new "paramount leader," the Chinese Communist Party is imposing further market liberalization and "supply-side" economic reform. The New Cold War between the US and China is simply a rivalry between capitalist powers. But in the global divide-and-conquer game, the leaders of oppressed nationalities within China such as the Tibetans and Uighurs look to the US and the West as allies, while left-populist governments in Latin America such as Venezuela and Bolivia similarly look to China. How can we respond to these developments in a way that builds solidarity between peasants, workers and indigenous peoples across the geopolitical divide? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon
(Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia

Xi proves: capitalism, totalitarianism no contradiction

To absolutely nobody's surprise, China's National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved numerous amendments to the country's Constitution, eliminating presidential term limits and effectively enshrining Xi Jinping as the new "paramount leader." But the inevitable invocation of Mao in this context is misleading. As part of the same restructuring now being rubber-stamped by the NPC come further market liberalization and "supply-side" economic reforms. This is economic "neoliberalism" under a system that is completely illiberal where political freedoms and pluralism are concerned. (Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia

Xi censors Orwell: too obvious. But the letter N?

Following the announcement that China's Communist Party has proposed scrapping term limits for the presidency, effectively setting Xi Jinping up as president for life, the online reaction within the People's Republic was initially voluble and irreverent. But authorities quickly cracked down, barring certain words and phrases from Sina Weibo search results. The absurd overkill in what what was blocked betrays an obvious fear of the masses on the part of China's ruling elite. The very titles of George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm have of course been suppressed. This is hardly surprising. It's almost heartening that despots around the world still find Orwell so dangerous that they have to ban him. But some other samples of the verboten verbiage are more revealing—and enigmatic. (Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia

China: rights lawyer arrested for urging reform

Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was charged with "inciting subversion of state officials" after calling for reform to China's constitution. Yu was arrested by a SWAT team at his home in Beijing just hours after he wrote an open letter urging democratic changes, including multi-party presidential election. He is now being held incommunicado at a secret site under the special status of "Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location." The "subversion" charge carries a sentence of 15 years. Since the current crackdown began in July 2015, more than 300 rights activists and lawyers have faced charges in China. (Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia

China: dissident blogger gets eight years in prison

A court in China convicted a prominent cyber-activist on subversion charges, after holding him for two years. Wu Gan, AKA "Super Vulgar Butcher," was arrested during the "709 Crackdown" on rights campaigners in 2015. Following the verdict, Wu was sentenced to eight years—the harshest term yet for anyone targeted in the crackdown. There's a particular irony to Wu's draconian sentence, as he made protesting transgressions of justice in China's court system his special cause. For instance, he took up the case of a rape victim who had killed her assailant, a Communist Party official. He also followed the example of online activists in the West by posting videos of police abuses. Photo: YouTube