Last week in East Asia, anti-nuclear groups demonstrated across Japan and South Korea on the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Marches took place across East Asia to raise awareness about sexual violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination against women to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March. In China, the central government passed legislation to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, which will grant the election committee veto power for election candidates in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. In North Korea, it was reported that strong local opposition and protests led the government to downgrade the coronavirus lockdown in Hyesan city, Ryanggang province. Meanwhile, solidarity demonstrations against the military coup in Myanmar continue to be held in South Korea and Japan. Lastly, in South Korea, a land speculation scandal involving employees of a state-run company triggered a series of protests.
Anti-nuclear protests were reported last week in Japan and South Korea as 11 March marked the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. On 11 March 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake occurring in the northeast part of Japan triggered a large tsunami that instigated a major nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Last week, people across Japan called for the abolition of nuclear power in remembrance of the disaster. Approximately 45% of all ACLED events in Japan last week were focused on opposing nuclear power. Among these, more than 10 events had hundreds of people in attendance. Noteworthy is that approximately 550 protesters gathered in front of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) office in Tokyo to ask the Fukushima plant operator to take responsibility for the 2011 nuclear disaster (NHK, 11 March 2021). Protesters hope that reminding the public and lawmakers of the damage caused by the Fukushima disaster will help to reverse the government’s efforts to restart other reactors that were shut down following the 2011 accident. Opponents of nuclear energy point to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, as alternatives, which present a much lower risk to the public than nuclear reactors do in earthquake-prone Japan (Asahi Shimbun, 12 March 2021). In South Korea, anti-nuclear groups staged nationwide protests to urge the government to strengthen nuclear phase-out policies and to develop energy transition policies to shut down the existing nuclear power plants (Hankyoreh, 11 March 2021; Busan Ilbo, 11 March 2021; YNA, 11 March 2021).
Women across East Asia took to the streets to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March. In South Korea, women’s groups and activists rallied across the country, calling for gender equality in the workplace and in society. Also, women workers took to the streets to urge the government to improve the child care system and to minimize career interruptions for women amid the coronavirus pandemic (Yonhap News Agency, 8 March 2021). Other related protests demand a stop to the practice of hiring women on a temporary basis and a need for a safe working environment free from sexual harassment. In Japan, there was an uptick in Flower Demos, which are typically held on the 11th of every month to condemn sexual violence against women. In addition to the usual demands, protesters showed support for a bill that would strengthen the punishment for sexual misconduct laid out in Japan’s penal code. The protests occurred on 8 March while the revision of the penal code was being discussed at the Ministry of Justice (Shimbun Akahata, 9 March 2021). Other women’s rights protests call for increased gender equality. Protesters highlight that, in the Global Gender Gap Index, Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries — the worst ranking among high-income countries (Mainichi Shimbun, 8 March 2021). In Taiwan, approximately 100 migrant workers protested in front of the Legislative Yuan to call attention to the hardship faced by female migrant workers in Taiwan (New Bloom Magazine, 12 March 2021). In Mongolia, citizens, including women and youth groups, demonstrated in Ulaanbaatar to criticize a controversial statement made by the prime minister and to demand his resignation (Ikon.mn, 8 March 2021). During a meeting of the National Committee on Gender Equality, the prime minister criticized early marriage among the youth and suggested that one solution to tackle this issue would be to increase labor participation by having young women join the military.
In China, the annual parliamentary meetings — also known as the Lianghui or Two Sessions — with key agenda items focusing on US-China relations and Hong Kong’s electoral system concluded last week. Each year, the Lianghui period is characterized by a spike in violence against civilians, as citizens and activists make attempts to travel to Beijing to express their grievances to top officials (for more on this, see this ACLED infographic). On the last day of this year’s meetings, the National People’s Congress voted nearly unanimously in favor of passing a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong‘s electoral system (HKFP, 11 March 2021). Under the new rules, the election committee responsible for choosing Hong Kong’s Chief Executive would be increased by 300 to a total of 1,500 members, with additional power to veto election candidates for the Legislative Council. The number of seats in the Legislative Council will also be increased from 70 to 90, with a reduced number of seats to be elected by the public. The composition of the Legislative Council is expected to be tipped in favor of Beijing loyalists, as more seats will be appointed directly by the Election Committee.
The resolution marks the most decisive move by China to ensure that the Hong Kong administration is governed by ‘patriots’. Critics have regarded the resolution as a further erosion of the city’s autonomy that was guaranteed during the Sino-British handover (DW, 9 March 2021). However, the central government in China states that the new measures are necessary to ensure stability in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy demonstrations rocked the city in 2019 (DW, 11 March 2021).
In North Korea, it was reported last week that the government downgraded the coronavirus lockdown order of Hyesan city on 4 March due to strong opposition by residents (Asia Press, 11 March 2021). Discontent arose when locals were not able to procure food under the strict lockdown. Authorities eased the restrictions, allowing people to commute to work. The previous lockdown, imposed just one day prior on 3 March, prohibited residents from leaving their homes at all. It was reported that a scuffle occurred between those protesting the initial lockdown and riot police, who were mobilized to keep the situation under control (Asia Press, 11 March 2021).
In South Korea and Japan, demonstrations of solidarity with the people of Myanmar amid the military coup continue to be held. In South Korea, Myanmar nationals, as well as civic, labor, and religious groups, and members of the ruling party, continue to hold rallies across the country to protest against the coup in Myanmar (The Kyunghyang Shinmun, 7 March 2021; YNA, 10 March 2021). A key aim is to seek Korea’s support for Myanmar’s democracy. In Japan, Burmese nationals protested in Kobe and Saga, demanding the release of Myanmar’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi (Kyodo News, 7 March 2021; Saga Shimbun, 7 March 2021).
Lastly, in South Korea, a land speculation scandal involving more than a dozen employees of the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) triggered massive public uproar (Korea JoongAng Daily, 7 March 2021). Farmers condemned LH employees’ agricultural land purchases and accused them of taking advantage of insider information on new development plans (Korea JoongAng Daily, 8 March 2021). Members of the opposition Progressive Party urged the Land Minister to resign and for LH to be dissolved (Yonhap News Agency, 11 March 2021). In the interim inquiry results, the government investigation team has identified some of the suspects involved in the scandal, including LH employees and government officials that have purchased land on the development site (Korea JoongAng Daily, 10 March 2021; Korea JoongAng Daily, 11 March 2021). The ongoing investigation is likely to lead to further protests demanding a law to prevent conflicts of interest that both ruling and opposition parties have neglected.
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