Last week in East Asia, graduates of the Chinese University of Hong Kong advocated for Hong Kong independence in lieu of a graduation ceremony in an act of defiance against the National Security Law. In Taiwan, the National Communications Commission’s decision not to renew the license of a pro-China broadcaster sparked new rounds of protests. Also in Taiwan, environmental groups demonstrated against Japan’s plan to release radioactive water from Fukushima into the sea. In North Korea, one military officer died and another soldier was maimed in a landmine explosion while inspecting the northern border with China. In South Korea, irregular workers organized a mass rally calling for equal pay and benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Japan, key developments included protests over the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and demonstrations against revisions to the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act. Lastly, in Mongolia, the government extended the national state of emergency until 1 December, as the country is facing a surge in locally transmitted cases of COVID-19.
In Hong Kong, graduates of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) held a protest march on their graduation day after the university moved the ceremony online due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The students marched around the CUHK campus to mark the first anniversary of the violent clashes that erupted on campus last year during the anti-extradition bill demonstrations (Reuters, 19 November 2020). During the protest, graduates held banners and chanted slogans advocating for Hong Kong independence in an act of defiance against the National Security Law (The Straits Times, 21 November 2020). The use of pro-independence slogans during the protest prompted the university leadership to call in the police. The national security unit conducted a campus-wide search to investigate suspected violations of the National Security Law (South China Morning Post, 19 November 2020). The siege of the university campus at the height of the anti-extradition bill movement last year turned the campus into one of the main battlegrounds of the movement. Riot police and demonstrators exchanged tear gas and petrol bombs throughout the five-day standoff.
In Taiwan, after weeks of deliberation over pro-China CTi News’ request to renew their broadcast license, the National Communications Commission (NCC) rejected the application, citing reporting biases (AP, 18 November 2020). The decision sparked further protests among the channel’s viewers and the Kuomintang (KMT), which regards the channel as one of the few media outlets providing a platform in support of unification with China. During the week, KMT legislators held press conferences to call on the public to attend a march on 22 November to protest against the NCC’s ruling. Meanwhile, dozens of CTi News’ supporters staged a protest outside the NCC, accusing the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of restraining freedom of speech (Taipei Times, 20 November 2020).
Also in Taiwan, environmental groups held a protest to call on the government to oppose Japan’s now-shelved plan to discharge wastewater from the Fukushima power plant into the ocean. The issue has been a major flashpoint in the geopolitics of the East Asia region over the past month after it was reported that the Japanese government was considering discharging radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. The decision prompted furious reactions within Japan, as well as from governments and residents of neighboring countries, including South Korea and Taiwan (DW, 23 October 2020). Amid strong protests, Japan postponed the decision on the disposal method in late October.
In North Korea, one military officer was killed and another soldier was injured in an explosion while inspecting landmines in Ryanggang Province along the northern border with China. Last month, soldiers were ordered to lay landmines along the border regions in order to discourage border crossings under strict coronavirus controls. This marks the second month of reports of soldiers being injured while laying or inspecting landmines. In October, several untrained soldiers in Ryanggang and North Hamgyong provinces were injured in landmine explosions.
In South Korea, despite concerns that mass rallies could trigger a further surge in coronavirus cases, another large-scale rally took place last week. On 19 November, around 2,500 irregular workers took to the streets to demand the abolition of all forms of discrimination against the group (Hankyoreh, 19 November 2020). They also demanded equal pay and benefits for regular and irregular workers. Although the government has taken some measures to support irregular workers, the pandemic has led to a significant deterioration of the livelihoods of irregular workers, leading to nationwide protests (Dong-a Ilbo, 21 September 2020).
In Japan, a number of protests were held in opposition to the upcoming Tokyo 2021 Olympics, now scheduled for July-August 2021. The protests coincided with a visit by the president of the International Olympic Committee to Tokyo to meet athletes and tour the facilities (Tokyo Shimbun, 16 November 2020). Protests against the Olympics have been held since planning for the games began, but the coronavirus pandemic has prompted an increase in both intensity and frequency. In addition to previous concerns over government spending, protesters now feel that holding the games would be medically and ethically irresponsible. They have called for the Olympics to be canceled outright rather than postponed (Reuters, 24 July 2020).
Separately, protests in Japan led by agricultural, health, and consumer unions against the revised draft of the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Act also increased last week. The protests come as the bill passed through the lower house of parliament and is now due to be deliberated upon by the upper house (Shimbun Akahata, 20 November 2020). The new proposal gives the state control over the exchange of seeds and plants abroad, which the government argues will help protect Japanese intellectual property and strengthen agricultural exports. However, farmers fear that the new law will result in reduced autonomy in crop variety selection and increased costs for smaller producers, which could drive them out of business (Japan Times, 7 November 2020).
Finally, in Mongolia, last week was marked by a record surge in coronavirus infections (News.mn, 24 November 2020). The country, which has had a low number of infections and zero deaths since the pandemic started, is now facing the first cases of local transmission. The government has extended the national state of emergency until 1 December (News.mn, 17 November 2020).
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