Last week in East Asia, key developments include: a continued downward trend for pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong amid passage of the national security law; major brawls between Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers in the Taiwan parliament over the appointment of the president of the Control Yuan; anti-sexual harassment protests and deepened political division in South Korea following the death of an alleged pro-Japan veteran; dueling protests between nationalists and anti-hate speech activists in Japan; and continued coronavirus-related demonstrations in China (including Hong Kong), South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia.
In Hong Kong, pro-democracy parties held their primaries over the weekend of 11 and 12 July in advance of the upcoming Legislative Council elections. Following the primaries, several pro-establishment groups held demonstrations criticizing the Electoral Affairs Commission for allowing the primaries to take place. They called for authorities to bring charges against the key organizers of the primaries. Meanwhile, demonstrations by the pro-democracy camp continued to be severely impacted by the new national security law. The “Lunch with You” rallies, which have been a fixture of the pro-democracy movement since the anti-extradition bill demonstrations last year, were only held once during the week, with just two participants.
In Taiwan, a major brawl broke out between Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers in parliament against the appointment of a former presidential aide as the president of the Control Yuan, one of the branches of the government of Taiwan. The KMT lawmakers claimed his appointment was “cronyism”. Outside the Legislative Yuan, another of the branches of the government of Taiwan, KMT supporters gathered to protest against the nominee. KMT lawmakers occupied the chamber for three days, attempting to thwart the nominee from taking the post. KMT and DPP lawmakers clashed again for a second time when the planned vote on the Control Yuan nominations was scheduled. These ongoing developments are seen as the KMT’s attempt to regroup itself following its defeat in this year’s presidential election. The party has since been trying to reinvent itself under its new youthful leader in an attempt to distance itself from the alleged “pro-China” image.
In South Korea, various women’s organizations, along with the United Future Party, called for a thorough investigation into the sexual misconduct of the mayor of Seoul. He was found dead from an apparent suicide, following an accusation of four years of sexual harassment made by his secretary (BBC, 13 July 2020). This development follows a series of sexual harassment scandals involving the mayor of Busan in April and the governor of South Chungcheong Province in 2019. Women’s organizations staged multiple protests and urged the enactment of a strict law against sexual assault and harassment by high ranking officials.
Additionally in South Korea, the government decided to bury Paik Sun-yup, a controversial veteran of the Korean War, at the Daejeon National Cemetery (The Korea Times, 11 July 2020). This caused both progressive and conservative organizations to stage parallel rallies in front of the National Cemetery, demonstrating both for and against the ceremony. The controversy surrounding Paik concerns his collaboration with Japan against Korean independence activists before the Korean War; Paik never apologized for being pro-Japan and for his service in the Manchukuo Imperial Army. This comes in the context of increased polarization between progressives and conservatives in South Korea following events such as the dispute over Korean Council corruption allegations, and protests related to alleged election fraud.
In Japan, a two-sided protest with the Japan First Party on one side and anti-hate speech groups on the other was reported in Kawasaki. This is the first reported protest of its kind since the anti-hate speech ordinance came into effect in Kawasaki at the end of 2019 to deter discrimination against ethnic Koreans and other minorities in Japan (Asahi Shimbun, 12 December 2019). City officials were at the venue to ensure that neither side breached the law.
Finally, coronavirus-related demonstrations continued in East Asia last week. In South Korea, delivery workers continued to ask the government to take measures to reduce their working hours in the face of the pandemic. Residents from Busan continued to protest against the designation of a quarantine facility in the region for people coming from overseas. In Japan, protests were focused on the government’s “Go To” domestic tourism campaign, which protesters feel is ill-timed given the current rising infection rate.
In mainland China, following new lockdown measures, a large number of residents in Xihongmen town demonstrated against the paid permits imposed on residents to move in and out of their town (Radio Free Asia, 14 July 2020). During the demonstrations, residents attempted to forcefully break through the checkpoint. In Hong Kong, a renewed outbreak prompted demonstrations calling for the government to implement a city-wide testing program, and for a major shopping mall landlord to upgrade sanitation efforts where the most recent outbreak originated. The Hong Kong government has since tightened the size of group gatherings from 50 to four people.
In Mongolia, people continued to demand the return of Mongolian citizens stranded abroad due to the border lockdown. On 16 July, families gathered outside the National Emergency Management Agency in Ulaanbaatar calling on officials to expand the citizen repatriation process and to increase the capacity of the isolation centers. They also called for oversight of the State Emergency Commission (SEC)’s activities (Ikon.mn, 16 July 2020). Currently, over 10,000 stranded citizens, including students and other travelers, have sought to return home to Mongolia (Montsame.mn, 9 July 2020). As many find themselves in difficult conditions, they have staged protests abroad to increase pressure on the Mongolian government to let them return (Kafkadesk.org, 17 July 2020).
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