Last week in East Asia, the disqualification of four elected pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong prompted strong reactions domestically and internationally. Following the disqualification, 15 pro-democracy lawmakers announced their resignations en masse to protest against the decision. In Japan, women continued to gather across the country to protest against an MP’s comments that were perceived as discriminatory against victims of sexual violence. Separately, a protest was staged at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo against China’s oppression of its Uyghur population in the East Turkestan region. Lastly, in South Korea, nationwide rallies were staged to call for the revision of three labor-related laws.
In Hong Kong, four elected pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified from the Legislative Council directly following a newly-passed resolution from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), Beijing’s top legislative body (Hong Kong Free Press, 11 November 2020). The resolution allows the Hong Kong government to disqualify legislators who are deemed supportive of “Hong Kong independence” or who have failed to recognize China’s exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. The development marked yet another sea change in Hong Kong’s political landscape, which has undergone significant changes since the passage of the National Security Law earlier this year. The latest decision has been condemned by the United States and the European Union as part of a continued effort by China to “undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy” (Reuters, 12 November 2020). In addition, the UK Foreign Secretary issued a statement declaring that China was in breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The statement marks the third outright pronouncement from the United Kingdom asserting that China was in breach of the Joint Declaration, since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. The first time was in 2016, while two breaches have been declared by the UK in 2020 alone (GOV.UK, 12 November 2020).
Domestically, the disqualifications prompted strong reactions from both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment factions of Hong Kong. On the same day, the entire pro-democracy caucus, consisting of the remaining 15 legislators, announced their resignations as an act of protest. The mass resignations would leave the Legislative Council, where only half of the seats are directly elected, without an organized opposition (BBC, 12 November 2020). Meanwhile, pro-establishment citizen groups demonstrated almost every day last week to express their support for the disqualifications. The groups claim that the disqualified pro-democracy lawmakers used “filibustering tactics” to paralyze proceedings in the Legislative Council (CNA, 11 November 2020). An online petition launched by pro-establishment political parties reportedly received 720,000 citizen signatories within the same day, in support of the disqualifications and resignations (Wen Wei Po, 14 November 2020).
In Japan, the monthly nationwide Flower Demo protests by women against sexual violence increased slightly this month, for the second month in a row. The increase is spurred by remarks made by a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that are widely viewed as derogatory toward women (Shimbun Akahata, 12 November 2020). The protests come in the context of discussions within government to change criminal law to allow for the punishment of sexual violence in all cases where there is a lack of consent, regardless of whether an assault took place or threats were made (TV Asahi, 10 November 2020). Currently, Japan’s criminal law only punishes sexual violence when there is proof of an assault or threat. There have been several controversial cases in which no rape charges could be filed as no evidence of assault was found. This development comes in the context of a 15% increase in the number of requests for help regarding sexual violence compared to the previous year (Kyodo News, 6 November 2020).
Separately, a protest was held at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo on 12 November against the mass detention and oppression of Uyghur people in China’s East Turkestan region (Asian News International, 13 November 2020). The protest marks the anniversary of the founding of the First East Turkestan Republic, which briefly claimed independence in 1993. Protesters argue that the forced labor and internment camps created by the Chinese government constitute a wholesale violation of human rights.
Finally, in South Korea, workers and labor activists staged nationwide mass rallies last Saturday in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of labor rights activist Jeon Tae-il (Korea JoongAng Daily, 15 November 2020). The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and its affiliated groups organized rallies in 50 different locations across the country to call for labor rights protection. In particular, protesters urged the government to revise the so-called Jeon Tae-il Three Labor Laws to improve working conditions. The organizers were heavily criticized by health officials and President Moon, who warned that the rallies “threaten the safety of the community” (The Korea Herald, 16 November 2020). In response, the protesters accused the government of applying a double standard in regulating the protests depending on the demonstrators’ political views. This development follows an increase in COVID-19 cases (The Korea Herald, 16 November 2020) and concerns that mass rallies could trigger a further rise in cases. South Korea already experienced a surge in the number of infections allegedly linked to mass rallies in August.
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