Last week in East Asia, students in Hong Kong protested against the appointment of two mainland Chinese scholars, with alleged ties to the Communist Party of China (CPC), to key academic posts. In Taiwan, as part of a global rally, hundreds of people marched in Taipei to demand the release of 12 Hong Kong fugitives detained in mainland China. In North Korea, in an unprecedented move, authorities ordered soldiers to set up landmines on the border with China to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, in South Korea, delivery workers continued to demand better working conditions and teachers called for a safer education environment amid the pandemic. In both South Korea and Japan, protesters gathered to call on two Japanese companies to compensate World War II forced laborers. Lastly, in Japan, protesters rallied in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, demanding the Japanese government sign the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.
In Hong Kong, the appointment of two mainland Chinese academics as vice presidents of research and academic development at Hong Kong’s most prestigious university sparked protests by students and members of the pro-democracy camp. Members of the University of Hong Kong’s student union held a protest on campus against their appointments after reports surfaced alleging that one of the academics is a member of the CPC. While the academic has since issued a statement refuting reports of his alleged party membership, critics have raised concerns about loss of academic freedom and institutional autonomy at the university (HKFP, 28 October 2020). The appointments come amid a growing fear of an erosion of autonomy in the special administrative region, following the passage of the National Security Law earlier this year (RFA, 28 October 2020).
Following the murder of a teacher in France by a Muslim extremist, and the French president’s subsequent comments in an interview, a wave of anti-French protests have taken place across Muslim-majority countries across countries in the Middle East and South Asia. His remarks have been criticized for failing to apologize for the offending caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In Hong Kong, a protest was held outside the city’s largest mosque to call for a boycott of France, with protesters holding up defaced images of the French president. Earlier last week, the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong issued a statement to condemn the French president for his “derogatory and harmful remarks” (The Stand News, 30 October 2020).
In Taiwan, hundreds of people held a protest march in Taipei, as part of a global rally to demand the release of 12 Hong Kong fugitives detained in mainland China (SCMP, 25 October 2020). On the same day, rallies were held in Australia, Canada, United States, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy (SCMP, 25 October 2020; HKFP, 27 October 2020). The 12 fugitives were arrested at sea by mainland authorities in August while attempting to flee by boat to Taiwan. All 12 detainees are reportedly facing charges related to the mass pro-democracy demonstrations last year, including one who had been arrested under the National Security Law (The Guardian, 30 September 2020).
In North Korea, authorities have stepped up measures to prevent crossings on the North Korean-Chinese border. Soldiers were ordered to lay landmines in the border regions of Ryanggang and North Hamgyong Provinces. This decision comes after the failure of previous border measures to stop border crossings under strict coronavirus controls. On 22 September, a South Korean official was shot dead by the North Korean forces, likely as a result of North Korea’s “shoot-to-kill” orders in its border areas. The orders were introduced by the regime to prevent the spread of coronavirus into its territory. While North Korea has been known to plant landmines near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the southern border with South Korea, landmines have never before been deployed on the northern border with China (Radio Free Asia, 27 October 2020). As a result of the hurried deployment, several untrained soldiers in both Ryanggang and North Hamgyong provinces were injured in explosions earlier in October.
In South Korea, delivery workers and activists continued to demonstrate over the recent deaths of delivery workers from overwork. Unionized delivery workers staged protests in Seoul and Sejong and announced nationwide strikes. They demanded the government and delivery companies ensure better working conditions and reduce working hours (The Korea Times, 26 October 2020). The companies presumed responsible for the death of delivery workers made a public apology and pledged to improve treatment for their workers. To tackle the situation, the delivery companies announced that they will hire additional staff, suspend the overnight parcel services, and provide workers with insurance for industrial accidents (Yonhap News Agency, 26 October 2020).
Separately in South Korea, education civic groups and the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) demonstrated across 13 cities. They called for a more sustainable and safer education environment in schools amid the pandemic. They urged the government to limit class size in schools to fewer than 20 students (and fewer than 14 in kindergarten) by the end of this year. The KTU has collected signatures from more than 100,000 petitioners who support the movement to limit class size to fewer than 20 students (KBS News, 27 October 2020).
In both South Korea and Japan, people gathered on 30 October to demand two Japanese steel companies to pay compensation for their wartime abuse of Korean laborers (AP, 30 October 2020; YNA, 30 October 2020). The day marked two years since the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese steel companies must compensate Korean wartime forced laborers. The Japanese courts, on the other hand, do not recognize the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling.
Lastly, in Japan, anti-nuclear protests increased last week. Protesters rallied in Hiroshima and Nagasaki demanding the Japanese government to also join the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. The treaty will enter into force on 22 January 2021, with 50 states having now signed the treaty. The Japanese government reiterated its intention not to sign the treaty given its dependence on the US’ nuclear capabilities in case of an attack, who is its key ally (Japan Times, 26 October 2020). However, support for signing the treaty remains strong in the country given Japan’s history as the only nation to have directly experienced the horror and devastation of a nuclear attack.
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