Last week in East Asia, protests continued to be active throughout the region around the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in Japan and South Korea; solidarity with the American Black Lives Matter movement in Japan; around allegations of election-rigging in South Korea; and continued tensions in Hong Kong. Additionally, border tensions between China and India de-escalated, while tensions between North and South Korea continue. Meanwhile, a number of arrests in a short period of time in Mongolia could point to possible democratic backsliding.
Protests focused on the coronavirus pandemic persisted in South Korea and Japan. In South Korea, students continued to demand the refund of their tuition fees, while labor groups protested demanding economic relief for irregular workers, small business owners, health workers, and teachers. In Japan, people took to the streets to demand that authorities compensate those affected by the coronavirus measures.
Last week in Japan, Kyoto became the latest city in East Asia to host a Black Lives Matter march, with reports of over a thousand protesters attending (Tokyo Shimbun, 21 June 2020). Also, another large demonstration occurred in Nagoya, with reports of nearly 300 protesters marching against discrimination and police brutality (Asahi Shimbun, 21 June 2020). Also in Japan, the anti-military base protesters notably became vocal again last week after a quiet period due to the pandemic, as 23 June marked Okinawa Memorial Day, which commemorates the Battle of Okinawa.
In South Korea, conservative YouTubers, former lawmakers from the United Future Party, and citizens staged protests in multiple locations, including Busan, Incheon, Daegu, and Seoul, urging the government to uncover the truth about allegations of election-rigging. The 2020 legislative election came under scrutiny with disputed allegations of vulnerabilities of the online counting system and potential exposure to Chinese hackers.
In Hong Kong, the number of events over the past two weeks has remained low relative to weeks prior. Reporting suggests that anti-government demonstrations have lost some momentum due to the now higher risk of arrest. China’s announcement that it would impose a National Security Law in Hong Kong to criminalize “secessionist and subversive activity as well as foreign interference and terrorism” in the city means that expressing dissent through assembly or association could be punished with disproportionately harsh measures (South China Morning Post, 21 May 2020). The deterrent effect of the law, which came into force on 30 June 2020, is perhaps also manifest in the failure of labor unions and student groups to garner enough support to hold a strike in opposition to the law. Meanwhile, pro-establishment groups continued to demonstrate for the fifth consecutive week against the alleged interference of foreign governments in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and China.
At the China-India border, tensions have been running high since May, when China allegedly began moving troops into sensitive areas along the border. This incited a response from India to do the same. Things boiled over and clashes broke out on 15 June, resulting in the first fatal clash between both countries over the disputed territory since 1975. Following this incident, both countries reached a “mutual consensus to disengage” and to de-escalate the situation on 22 June (Al Jazeera, 23 June 2020).
In the context of increasing tensions between North and South Korea, six members of the pro-democracy organization Fighters For a Free North Korea (FFNK) staged a protest in Deokeun-ri, Paju in South Korea. They used balloons to fly leaflets, one-dollar bills, and USBs criticizing Kim Jong Un to North Korea. (Dong-A Ilbo, 23 June 2020). Residents from Paju and various civic groups staged counter-protests condemning the North Korean defector group’s leaflet campaign. The increase in such protests deepens the divide among the Korean civil society, which isas a reflection of the current escalation at the governmental level between the North and South.
In Mongolia, the ruling party, Mongolia People’s Party, secured another victory in the parliamentary elections organized on 24 June. During the election campaign, six candidates were arrested, amongst them an MP and a former Prime Minister, raising concerns that Mongolia’s democracy is backsliding as arrests of candidates during an electoral campaign have never happened in the democratic history of the country.
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