Last week in East Asia, three prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong pleaded guilty to charges for their role in organizing an anti-extradition bill demonstration last year. There has been an increase in the number of arrests of pro-democracy figures in November. In Taiwan, a mass rally was held in Taipei and a brawl broke out in the legislature over the government’s decision to allow US imports of pork. In North Korea, the government put Jagang Province under lockdown after a border guard, who allegedly was in contact with soldiers displaying coronavirus-like symptoms, disappeared. In South Korea, despite repeated warnings from the government not to hold rallies amid an increase in COVID-19 cases, nationwide protests were reported over labor rights. Also in South Korea, protesters against an anti-missile defense system blocked transport vehicles approaching a military facility, which riot police tried to disperse. In Japan, 1,000 protesters demonstrated in Fussa against the US deployment of Osprey aircraft considered to be unsafe (Shimbun Akahata, 23 November 2020).
In Hong Kong, amid a surge in the number of locally transmitted cases in the “fourth wave” of COVID-19 infections, the number of protests remains low. Demonstrations focused mainly on calling for stronger mitigation measures, the implementation of mandatory testing, and the establishment of more testing facilities. Meanwhile, three pro-democracy activists from the now-disbanded political group Demosisto have been remanded into custody until their sentencing on 2 December. The activists pleaded guilty to charges that include inciting and organizing an unauthorized assembly during the anti-extradition bill demonstrations in June last year. Supporters gathered in solidarity with the activists as the trio were transported out of the court building, and raised the “Five Demands” hand gesture to express their continued support for the anti-extradition bill movement. Among those facing charges is Joshua Wong, who has played a prominent role in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements, and will now likely face his fourth jail term in three years. There has been a rise in the number of arrests made against pro-democracy political figures, district councilors, and journalists during the month of November (Radio Free Asia, 23 November 2020). According to police, a total of 25 arrests have been made as of 22 November (Apple Daily Hong Kong, 23 November 2020).
In Taiwan, thousands of people marched on the streets of Taipei as part of an annual protest march organized by labor groups (AP, 22 November 2020). The march this year primarily centered on the government’s decision to allow US pork imports into Taiwan, with protesters concerned about food safety issues. Lifting the longstanding ban on US pork and beef imports, which is due to be lifted in January 2021, is seen as a first step towards the possible negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement between Taiwan and the US. During the march, demonstrators called on the president to revoke the executive order that allows US pork imports to Taiwan starting next year. They also demanded that the Premier Su Tseng-chang step down. Fierce opposition towards the decision by Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers also reached its height during the week. During a parliamentary session, a brawl broke out between Democratic Progressive Party and KMT lawmakers as they threw punches and pig offals at each other when the premier was due to present a report about the policy (AP, 27 November 2020).
In North Korea, a coronavirus lockdown was instituted in Jagang Province after a breach in quarantine in Wiwon county along the northern border with China. Wiwon county had been locked down since 16 November after five soldiers reportedly died of coronavirus-like symptoms (Daily NK, 25 November 2020). Since then, military and border patrol units stationed in the county have been under quarantine. On 21 November, the entire province was locked down after a border guard, who was in quarantine, left his post and was nowhere to be found (Daily NK, 26 November 2020). As a precaution and due to concerns that a further spread of the virus may affect the national economy – as Jagang Province is home to a large number of munitions factories – the entire province was put under lockdown. These events are unusual coming from a country that largely denies having any cases of coronavirus infection.
In South Korea, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) continued to hold a series of nationwide protests over labor rights amid a rise of coronavirus infections (Chosun Ilbo, 25 November 2020). The protesters urged authorities to revise the so-called Jeon Tae-il Three Labor Laws and opposed the government’s proposed labor reforms. The government urged the KCTU to cancel the protests given the recent surge in the number of infections (The Korean Herald, 25 November 2020). Despite the government’s warnings, the KCTU rallied across the country, making sure that the local governments’ social distancing restrictions and national guidelines were respected. This development follows the third wave of COVID-19 in the country and concerns that mass rallies could trigger a further rise in cases (The Korea Herald, 29 November 2020).
Also in South Korea, for the second month in a row, residents and activists tried to block the transport of materials into a military base in Seongju. Riot police tried to disperse the demonstrators without success. As happened last month, demonstrators tied themselves to a ladder-like structure to block vehicles entering the base. The demonstrators oppose the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system, which was established at the Seongju military base in May 2020. Regular demonstrations at the base make the transport of materials possible only by air.
Lastly, in Japan, 1,000 protesters gathered in Fussa, home to one of the most prominent US military airbases in Japan, to oppose the deployment of Osprey military aircraft to the base (Shimbun Akahata, 23 November 2020). The protest coincided with training exercises at the base. This development further highlights growing concerns among the local population about the safety of Osprey aircraft and further adds to anti-militarism sentiment in Japan.
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