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.
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.
On Jan. 21, 2019, Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a final statement regarding the Japanese-South Korean “radar feud” that occurred at the end of last year. The event triggering the dispute occurred on Dec. 20, 2018, in which a South Korean KDX-I destroyer allegedly locked on its fire-control radar onto a P-1 patrol aircraft of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) flying over the waters off the coast of Japan’s Noto Peninsula.
In a report published last month, the ADM Capital Foundation — a Hong Kong-based environmental advocacy foundation — found that Hong Kong has become the largest market for illegal wildlife products, including pangolin fins and rhino horns.
On Feb. 9, 2019, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its firm opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the disputed northeastern border state of India, which concluded the same day.
In another development in the ongoing scandal regarding the slate of financial misconduct allegations against former Nissan Motor Corporation chairman Carlos Ghosn, French automaker Renault issued a statement on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, stating for the first time that Ghosn — in his capacity as CEO and chairman of Renault — had misused company’s funds to his personal benefit.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of South Korea has announced the formation of a massive inquiry into sexual assault and other forms of abuses in the country’s athletics community.
The Trump administration is increasing its efforts to prevent Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from expanding its 5G network in the United States and across the globe, reports show.
Alongside the contentious “nine-in-one” local elections held on Nov. 24, 2018, Taiwanese voters were also presented with a list of ten questions on a separate referendum ballot received at polling stations the same day.
In a stunning rebuke of the ruling pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwanese voters sacked a majority of DPP officials serving in lower levels of government in favor of candidates from the opposition pro-PRC Nationalist Party (KMT) in “nine-in-one” local elections held on Nov. 24, 2018.
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