The East Asia Section of IR Insider publishes breaking news reports and analysis from China, North Korea, Japan, and other East Asian countries. Topics covered in the East Asia section may range from Inter-Korean relations to Chinese economic policy and beyond. Our section editor is Yun-Da Tsai.
The United States House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Assurance Act in a voice vote that had no recorded objection from the floor in the afternoon of May 7, 2019, before agreeing on a non-binding House Resolution “reaffirming the United States commitment to Taiwan” in the evening of the same day.
On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, a car plowed into a group of nursery children in the city of Otsu, located on the shore of Lake Biwa in western Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, killing two toddlers and injuring 13 others — a figure that includes the entire group of nursery children on the walk and the three accompanying nursery school teachers.
On Wednesday, May 1, 2019, the United States Department of Justice revealed that former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, has admitted to conspiring with China to pass US intelligence secrets that may have contributed to the disastrous crippling of the United States’s CIA operation in China since 2010.
On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, two committees of South Korea’s National Assembly fast-tracked key reform bills amid criticism from the main opposition party — the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP) — and Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il. The bills, backed by the governing liberal Democratic Party (DP) and three minor opposition parties, include proposals to overhaul and revamp the electoral system for parliamentary seats and a call to expand the police’s authority regarding crime investigations.
Legislation introduced on April 3, 2019 to alter Hong Kong’s extradition policy has reignited the discontent of many Hongkongers, with thousands taking to the streets in successive weeks to demand a halt to the proposed changes that would make it easier to extradite individuals into the People’s Republic of China’s secretive judicial system.
Japan formally ushered in the new Reiwa era on May 1, 2019 wi$th the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito as the new Emperor of Japan. Naruhito, aged 59, succeeds his father Akihito, who abdicated the throne a day prior and took the title “Emperor Emeritus” to bring the three-decade-long Heisei era to a close.
On April 23, 2019, the Kremlin confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would visit Vladivostok, Russia’s bastion and Pacific port in the Far East, for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin. This meeting, scheduled for April 25, comes approximately two months after the collapse of the talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi that resulted in neither agreement nor significant progress regarding the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kweichow Moutai Co., China’s premier distilled liquor producer, is the most valuable liquor company in the world, producing a soy sauce-like scent of the Chinese grain alcohol baijiu that is popular among the Chinese public. It is slated to become the first company to surpass the 1,000-yuan (148.30 USD) mark in stock value, blazing the trail ahead in China’s booming equity market.
Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, the Mongolian-born professional sumo wrestler more commonly known by his wrestling stage name Hakuhō Shō, has filed paperwork to renounce his Mongolian citizenship. The move, reported by Mongolian media on April 17, is the first formal step in pursuing a Japanese citizenship, which is a requirement for those seeking to become a senior member (a “sumo elder”) of the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) after retirement from wrestling.
Amid a concerted diplomatic lobbying effort triggered by Taipei at the end of the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA) last year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) conceded on April 4, 2019 that the prospects of receiving an invitation to attend the upcoming 72nd WHA, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), as an observer was “unlikely.”
On Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in left for Washington to meet with United States President Donald Trump. The purpose of their meeting, per South Korea’s presidential office, was “to coordinate their stance on setting up a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization.”
Nine leading members of the “Umbrella Movement,” which organized the 79-day “Occupy Central” pro-democracy protests that riveted the prosperous coastal city of Hong Kong in late 2014, have been convicted by a Hong Kong district court on public nuisance charges. Additionally, the “Occupy trio” — sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60; law professor Benny Tai, 54; and Baptist minister Rev. Chu Yiu-ming, 75 — were also found guilty of conspiring to cause public nuisance, on top of charges of inciting others to cause public nuisance.
South Korea’s headline inflation slowed in March to its weakest pace since July 2016 owing to lower prices for oil products and vegetables. Seoul’s weakening CPI provides growing evidence of Sino-U.S. trade tensions and weakening global demand are hurting economic sentiment in South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
On Monday, Apr. 1, 2019, the Japanese government officially unveiled the new imperial era name (gengo) that will begin on May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito succeeds his father, the current Emperor Akihito, to the Chrysanthemum Throne. During the reveal, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up to a work of calligraphy showing the official new imperial era name Reiwa (令和), comprised of Chinese characters of “rei” (令), denoting “good” or “auspicious,” and “wa” (和), meaning “harmony” or “peace.”
Since the start of this year, South Korea has been rocked by a series of investigations into alleged drugging and trafficking of women for sex, non-consensual filming of women with hidden cameras, and the sharing of pornographic content involving unconscious women. While the most recent batch of scandals are currently shining a spotlight on the Korean pop (K-pop) scene, Korean women and sociologists alike have observed that the grave issue has long been a concern for the country as a whole: a society that normalizes the objectification of women as a facet of a wider, deeply embedded culture of misogyny in Korean society.
On Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2019, a Spanish court lifted a secrecy order and released a report detailing the events surrounding the Feb. 22, 2019 break-in at North Korea’s embassy in Madrid by ten individuals, including a Mexican citizen, a US citizen, and a South Korean citizen.
On Tuesday, China’s former top internet security chief, known as the “Father of the Great Firewall,” was sentenced to 14 years in jail on charges of corruption and bribery.
On Saturday, Mar. 23, 2019, the Italian government signed a non-binding agreement to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an initiative to expand its economic ties throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. The BRI aims to link China to the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere — including countries residing in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa — through a system of networks along the lines of the old Silk Road, a nod to the original transcontinental route that enriched traders from the Atlantic to the Pacific through much of early history.
With a little less than a year to the next elections for the President and all 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China, former Premier William Lai of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) formally registered to run for Taiwan’s highest political position.
Serikzhan Bilah — a Kazakh activist critical of the Chinese government’s mass crackdown on Uighurs, among other Muslim minorities in China’s far western Xinjiang region, including Kazakhs — was arrested by Kazakh authorities on Mar. 10 before being confined to house arrest the following day. The program of systematic detention of Muslims in state-run camps, dubbed by the United Nations as “political camps for indoctrination,” has gained much international attention; however, many Muslim majority countries, including Kazakhstan, have not criticized the Chinese government on the issue.
On Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019, the Japanese government stated that it will not submit a draft resolution condemning the dismal human rights record and continuing human rights abuses of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, commonly North Korea) at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
On Feb. 15, 2019, the Japanese Cabinet approved draft legislation, legally recognizing the Ainu as indigenous people of Japan — a first in modern Japanese history — and promoting “public awareness” about Ainu culture. The bill “aim[s]...to create a society where people who identify as Ainu can be proud of their roots without having to fear retribution or discrimination,” said Kenichi Ochiai, an associate professor of constitutional law at the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University.
A new report by California-based cybersecurity firm McAfee has found that North Korea conducted cyberattacks on United States’ financial institutions and commercial companies during the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi last week. The report, released on Mar. 3, 2019, noted that a new streak of attacks by North Korean hackers began in 2017 and continued even after the warming of relations between Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has proposed a joint project with China to use artificial rain to combat severe air pollution across South Korea, where recent sharp increases has caused alarm among citizens and the government. In recent years, Seoul has been struggling to tackle the rise in air pollution that experts have directly linked to both China's massively growing industrial activity and carbon dioxide emissions from South Korean cars.
On Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2019, China’s Premier Li Keqiang delivered a lower overall growth target for the upcoming year in his “Government Work Report” to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the nearly 3,000-member strong legislature (on paper) of the People’s Republic of China. The report comes during the annual parliamentary pageantry that is a meeting of the full NPC, with delegates loyally approving legislation, reports, and budgets as a de facto rubber stamping body and evidence of President Xi Jinping’s firm grip over Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese state in the 70th anniversary year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
The second highly anticipated summit between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, scheduled to run for at least two full days starting on Feb. 27, 2019, was abruptly cut short after US officials notified reporters covering the summit in Hanoi on Feb. 28 that the scheduled lunch between Trump and Kim had been canceled and further negotiations terminated.
Dutch customs officials reported on Feb. 26, 2019 the seizure of a container containing 90,000 bottles of Russian vodka that was listed as bound for China but believed to be headed for North Korea. This smuggling, intercepted a day before the two-day summit between the leaders of North Korea and the United States in Hanoi, is in breach of United Nations sanctions levied against North Korea.
China’s bustling capital city of Beijing has stepped up its efforts to deter hospital scalpers by employing facial recognition technology. These efforts are the latest in a series of technological and surveillance developments aimed at rejuvenating China’s ailing healthcare system, a system which has been the subject of much controversy and criticism since economic liberalization in the 1980s.
On Feb. 18, 2019, the English section of the online website for the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC), published an opinion piece with former Prime Minister of New Zealand Jenny Shipley’s name in the byline.
Europe’s biggest bank HSBC reported on Feb. 18, 2019 a 15.9 percent rise in pre-tax profits for its annual earnings in 2018 — falling short of market expectations — with analysts and HSBC officers citing an economic slump in China, Britain, and Hong Kong as the chief cause of the disappointing report. The large drop in fourth-quarter revenue sent expected share price for the bank tumbling by 3.3 percent on Feb. 20, 2019.
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