Rachel Brown, Sungtae “Jacky” Park, Ariella Rotenberg, Ayumi Teraoka, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.
1. China puts missiles on disputed island. The Pentagon has claimed that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands disputed in the South China Sea. Based on satellite imagery, China has deployed two batteries of eight HQ-9 missile launchers on the island, which Taiwan and Vietnam also claim. In response, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has accused China of “an increase in militarization” of the South China Sea. Despite the uproar that the deployment has caused, the Woody Island has a military garrison and has been militarized for quite some time, and the deployment of the missiles would not seriously alter the military equation in the region. What concerns the United States, and its allies and partners, is that the deployment represents a step toward China’s further militarizing and building infrastructure throughout the rest of the South China Sea, particularly in light of China’s recent artificial island–building in the region.
2. Taliban in Afghanistan reported to be increasing use of child soldiers. According to a Human Rights Watch report released this week, the Taliban in Afghanistan have been recruiting an increasing number of child soldiers. Specifically, child soldiers as young as ten were used by the Taliban in their latest battle to overrun the city of Kunduz last year. Most of these children are educated at Taliban-run schools, where they begin indoctrination as early as age six. By the time these boys reach thirteen, many of them are trained in the production and deployment of IEDs as well as how to use various firearms. While the Taliban has been recruiting and using children as fighters since the 1990s, recruitment of boy soldiers is believed to have increased significantly since 2015 due to the expanded Taliban operations against Afghan government forces. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has denied that the Taliban enlists boys to their ranks.
3. United Nations report states that Kim Jong-un should be told he could face trial. In a thirteen-page United Nations (UN) report released on Monday, Marzuki Darusman, a UN human rights investigator, stated that the UN should officially notify Kim Jong-un that he and his close staff could face trial for heinous crimes. This report will be presented next month to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Darusman’s comment echoes the conclusion of the UN report he coauthored in 2014 that stated that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly Kim Jong-un, should face the International Criminal Court (ICC) for ordering systematic torture, starvation, and killings. Last December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also testified before the Security Council to call for such an action. Whether the international community can successfully garner support for the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC, however, faces the typical challenges for any punitive measures against North Korea: China’s reluctance and its veto power as a member of the UN Security Council. Given increasingly imminent risks of North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons program, combined with the unimproved human rights situation in the country, the international community should keep seeking for ways to overcome this conundrum.
4. United States to ban seafood imports caught with forced labor. Last week, Congress passed a bill to ban imports of all goods made using “convict, forced or indentured labor.” The bill, which included a number of other trade provisions, passed 75–20 in the Senate. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week. The passage of the bill coincided with a measure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requiring American firms to better report the sources of their seafood imports. Previously, under the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, a loophole permitted the import of products made using slave labor if there was no alternative way to fulfill consumer demand. While such a ban could cover over 350 products, much attention has focused on the effect on seafood imports produced with slave labor in Southeast Asia. Last year, a flurry of reporting exposed rampant abuses in the Thai fishing industry including the trafficking of Rohingya migrants and indentured servitude of Cambodians working on Thai ships, as well as the supply to major American grocery chains of seafood produced by enslaved workers. Such seafood is often used in pet food and approximately 90 percent of American seafood is imported from abroad. The annual value of Thailand’s seafood industry is more than $7 billion, and significant economic consequences could arise if adjustments to current labor practices are not enacted.
5. Seoul urges citizens to avoid North Korean restaurants. This week, as part of a move to increase economic pressure on North Korea after its nuclear and missile tests earlier this month, South Korea’s foreign ministry urged the country’s citizens to stop eating at North Korean restaurants. Around 100 of the 130 total establishments, which employ North Korean waitresses and often attract South Koreans traveling abroad, operate in China. On Friday, the South Korean embassy in China reiterated concerns about the safety of the restaurants for South Korean expats and travelers there. The restaurants reportedly bring in around $100 million annually for the North Korean government, a small part of the $1–2 billion it collects in foreign currency from a broad range of business activities abroad. Last week, South Korea severed its last economic ties with the North by shuttering the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex, an act that Pyongyang equated to “a declaration of war.”
Bonus: Indonesian government asks apps to remove LGBT emoji. Over the past week, the Indonesian Communications Ministry expressed concern over LGBT-themed emoji offered by a variety of social media platforms. The ministry wrote in a statement that the images were “causing unrest in society, especially among parents,” because the colorful images could be particularly appealing to children. The ministry also demanded that several apps remove the emoji or be banned in the country. Though one company has already complied, popular services like WhatsApp and Facebook have not yet responded. Indonesia has 73 million internet users and 72 million active social media accounts, so the outcome could set an important precedent for internet companies operating in countries with a large user base.