Ashlyn Anderson, Lincoln Davidson, Lauren Dickey, William Piekos, and Ariella Rotenberg look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Rough week for human rights in China. Chinese police detained dozens of human rights lawyers this week on allegations that they were running a “criminal gang.” The “gang’s” offense? Creating “social chaos” by appealing to authorities and the public on behalf of their clients. The lawyers have been the subject of harsh criticism in state media; authorities have also rolled out the increasingly familiar tactic of televised confessions to publicly shame those arrested. Meanwhile, a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader died in a Chinese prison Sunday, where he was serving a twenty-year sentence on charges of “terrorism and inciting separatism.” When thousands of Tibetans gathered outside government offices to mourn his death and demand his remains be returned to his family, police responded by firing shots into the air and using tear gas on the crowd. In Liaoning province, police shot dead three individuals they say were “Xinjiang terrorists” and detained four others, including three children. And in Inner Mongolia, nine foreign tourists were detained at an airport because Chinese police suspected them of watching “terrorist propaganda.”
2. Japan moves forward with security bills. The lower house of the Japanese Diet passed legislation Thursday that would expand the role of the military in a country that has long prided itself on being the world’s first nation with a constitutional imperative to be pacifist. The most controversial measure passed would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Force to support allies who have been attacked, even if Japan itself has not been attacked. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the legislation is “absolutely necessary … to protect the lives of Japanese people and prevent wars.” Not everyone agrees: opposition parties oppose the bills, the foreign ministries of both South Korea and China denounced them, and thousands of people across Japan protested in response—even animator and director Hayao Miyazaki chipped in, calling them “despicable.” While the opposition has vowed to carry on the fight in the House of Councillors, the Diet’s upper house, the lower house could override a ‘no’ vote with a two-thirds majority; Abe’s coalition controls 68 percent of lower house seats.
3. India freezes Ford Foundation funding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government froze four million dollars of Ford Foundation funding to India because of perceived interference in domestic politics. In particular, the freeze has come as a reaction to a $250,000 grant given to a vocal political activist who opposes the Modi government. The frozen funds have halted multiple Ford-funded projects including some aimed at fighting child marriage, providing clean water in slums, and feeding pregnant women, putting already underserved populations further at risk. The Ford Foundation has donated more than five-hundred million dollars to India since establishing its Delhi office in 1952. This particular episode exemplifies a broader clampdown by the Modi government on charities; this year alone the government cancelled the registration of nearly nine-thousand groups for failing to disclose donation details.
4. North Korea, China to open border trade zone. In the latest effort to boost economic ties amid lingering tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang, the two countries have agreed to open the Guomenwan trade zone in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, Liaoning province, this fall. The tax free zone will be open to residents living within twenty kilometers of the border, allowing small- to medium-scale traders to exchange commodities on a duty-free basis up to 8,000 yuan ($1,288) per day. The latest trade initiative will allow North Koreans to buy more general goods from Dandong, a hub for trade between the two countries and host of over six-hundred cross-border trade enterprises.
5. Vietnam hosts high-ranking Chinese official. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli held talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and other official during a two-day trip to Hanoi, seeking to ease strained relations. Sino-Vietnamese relations have been tense in the past year because of the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, specifically the positioning of a Chinese oil rig in territorial waters claimed by Vietnam. The vice premier’s visit comes on the heels of a visit by Vietnam’s communist party chief to the United States earlier this month, where he met with President Obama at the White House. With strained relations between Beijing and Hanoi, Washington has ramped up diplomatic efforts with Vietnam.
Bonus: Google weighs in on South China Sea disputes. Google has altered its map of a disputed reef in the South China Sea, removing the Chinese name (“Zhongsha Islands”) in favor for what it says is the internationally recognized moniker: Scarborough Shoal. According to a Google spokesman, the change was prompted by an online petition and was made “in a way that does not endorse or affirm the position taken by any side.” Angered Chinese have since taken to Weibo, arguing that patriotic Chinese should uninstall all Google products in hopes of kicking the internet giant out of China.