Tag Archives: china

Japan – back to being a ‘normal’ state?

Your World Explained is back after a summer break. I’m heading back to university for one of the busiest semesters yet, as I’m taking courses in both Leiden and Nijmegen. As a result, the blog may be a little less regular than last year, but I’ll be doing my best to update twice a week!

70 years after the atomic bombing of Japan and the end of World War II in the Pacific, Japan is a very different country. From utter devastation in 1945 it has expanded into the world’s third largest economy and a vital part of the international system. The West now sees Japan as the home of anime and all things weird, rather than a militaristic and aggressive island.

A major part of this is the unique Japanese constitution, which renounces war on behalf of the Japanese people. This has long been an assurance to Japan’s East Asian neighbours, many of whom still mistrust the Japanese. However, the parliament of Japan now looks set to approve a crucial ‘reinterpretation’ of the constitution, bringing it more into line with other countries. So what exactly does Article 9 of the constitution say, and what changes are being suggested? And what impact will this have on an already tense East Asia? Continue reading


Hong Kong protests – China’s juggling act

This week the long running anti-government protests in Hong Kong flared up again, with student protesters trying to get into government headquarters and being repelled with tear gas and pepper spray. The students are angry at what they see as Beijing’s broken promises on democracy in Hong Kong. After being forced away by riot police, they are now gathering again in a park near the government building. So what exactly are they protesting? And what does it say about China today?

The trouble started recently when Beijing announced that the Hong Kong elections in 2017 for the Chief Executive (like a Prime Minister) would not be fully free as had been suggested. Instead, candidates who wanted to run would first have to be approved by a committee – in effect meaning that Hong Kong would only be able to choose one of Bejiing’s men.

This has caused great anger in a city that only returned to China 17 years ago. While there was no real democracy under the British, there was no oppression either, and Hong Kong was able to become one of the most wealthy and developed cities in Asia. Due to its unique nature, China has allowed the city to keep many of its policies. Hong Kong has a multi-party parliament, its own education system, economic policies and even control over immigration. This control extends to the border with China, where there is friction between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders trying to gain access to the prosperous city.

While these rights are guaranteed under Hong Kong law, many fear that Beijing is looking for a chance to reassert its authority, and the city is sensitive to any overstep by the government. The last time there was a large scale confrontation like this was in 2012 when the government tried to introduce educational reforms that were seen as ‘brainwashing‘. Beijing ended up backing down then, but they don’t look like giving up this time.

It seems to me that the unrest in Hong Kong is a sign of things to come in China itself. It’s hard to overstate how immense and diverse China is. With over a billion people, a wildly varying economic situation and constant low level unrest in the Muslim areas in the West, the Chinese government has to keep a whole lot of people either happy or cowed – their police force has to deal with over 100 000 incidents of protest a year. For the moment the government is still committed to the one party state that has made China an economic superpower.  But as cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou become richer and richer, their people will start to question their lack of any political voice. If the Communist party wants to hold on to power throughout the 21st century, they will have some tricky work ahead of them.

Silence in China – Tiananmen 25 years on

Today marks 25 years since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Except in China itself. There, today is the anniversary of nothing much. Counter-revolutionary riots with a few deaths if anything. In fact, the governing Communist Party has done its very best to make sure that no one remembers June 4 at all. So what happened on this day 25 years ago? And what has been the effect of one of the biggest ever attempts at mass censorship?

Embed from Getty Images

What the world knows as the Tiananmen Square Massacre was the sudden and violent end to a month long protest in the square. The protests were led by students, who gathered in mid-April 1989 in response to the death of a reformist politician. Over the course of the next month the protests gradually gathered momentum and support from other social groups and parts of the country. As the Communist Party stepped up propaganda against the students, the protests became more and more antagonistic towards the Party. In early June, the government finally put their crackdown plan into action.

Late at night on the 3rd of June reports began to reach the square of protesters elsewhere in the city being shot down by soldiers. Soon the army arrived at Tiananmen and surrounded it, sending in armoured vehicles that were bombarded with molotov cocktails. But with threats, beatings and eventually volleys of gunfire, the students were finally driven out of the square. Video from the time shows immense chaos in the streets surrounding Tiananmen, with wounded being brought to safety on bicycles that swerved past burning vehicles, and soldiers firing on the crowd from lorries.

Not only the students, but also local residents reacted with disbelief and fury. A small number of soldiers were beaten to death or burnt alive during the crackdown, which provided the Communist Party with the justification of a ‘counter-revolutionary riot’. In the morning of the 4th of June, a large group of protesters – including parents of students believed killed – tried to return to the square, and were faced with rows of infantry. The soldiers opened fire and dozens of people were killed in full view of journalists watching from a hotel. In the end the number of deaths in Beijing totalled anywhere from several hundred to over a thousand. Even after the protests in the capital were crushed by the army, it took a number of days for more protests across China to be brought under control. There is little information about these other protests, and the truth may never be known.

In most other countries such a number of people being shot by their own government would have had a massive impact on politics and society. This is exactly what the Communist Party wanted to avoid. Thousands of people across the country were arrested, with many dissidents jailed for years. But their main strategy was censorship. For 25 years any discussion or commemoration of the deaths has been forbidden. Textbooks don’t mention the events, and neither does the media. The Internet is another battleground for censorship, with foreign websites and search terms like ‘4 June’ and ‘Tiananmen Square’ being blocked. While some in China try to evade this censorship by such means as referring to the 4th of June as the 35th of May, the government’s efforts have been extraordinarily successful. Most young people in China know nothing about what happened. If they do know something, it is that the 4th of June is not a date to be talked about. The Communist Party has to a large decree succeeded in wiping the democracy movement and subsequent massacre out of its own past.

Today Tiananmen Square is surrounded by police and a large number of activists have been detained, just in case. In Taiwan and Hong Kong there are commemerations taking place, but in Tiananmen Square the tourists walk around like it’s an ordinary day. The lack of memory about the massacre shows the immense control the Communist Party still has over China’s politics 25 years on. It’s a system that has been written off numerous times before, but as long as it provides incredible economic growth, it seems to keep on surviving. Despite this progress though, the killings in Tiananmen Square will remain a stain that – no matter how hard they try – the Communist Party cannot quite erase.

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The South China Sea – China moving south?

While in recent weeks Chinese ships, planes and even satellites have been working alongside their South East Asian neighbours to find missing flight MH370, relations between the countries are not doing well. Earlier this year the Philippines took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration here in The Hague. They are protesting China’s claim to a large part of the South China Sea, and have decided to take the disagreement to an international level. China on the other hand has refused to take part, saying the court cannot get involved in the matter and showing its anger with the Philippines earlier this week. So what has got these nations in such a fuss? Who has the law on their side? And what does this say about China’s role in Asia?

Source: Goran tek-en

Areas claimed by different nations

Continue reading

North Korea and crimes against humanity – Part 2

On Wednesday I wrote about the terrible crimes against humanity taking place in North Korea. The Supreme Leader and his father and grandfather have turned the country into a hell on earth where children are brainwashed from day one to believe in the North Korean system. No outside information is allowed in, and any independent thought is punished by time in a prison camp. Prisoners here are subjected to brutal torture, and many are worked to death.

The world knows all this. It isn’t up for debate, or just propaganda. The UN’s knowledgeable, neutral and respected investigators conducted a well-researched report. So what can be done?

Photo by David Eerdmans

The border between North and South Korea

What’s been done in the past?

There has been action taken in the past to try to convince the North Korean government to join the international community, as well as stopping their abuses and their nuclear program. This can be seen as two policies, sometimes pursued at the same time, ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’. Good cop in this case is for example the giving of foreign aid to the country, or South Korean participation in joint industrial projects along the border. The problem with this approach is that it seems to have zero effect on the North Korean leadership. When the US and South Korea gave food aid to North Korea during the famine in the 90s, the rice was put in new sacks and in unmarked trucks, to disguise where it was coming from. The population never knew the US was helping them. Even today the UN continues to give aid to North Korea, while the government brutalises its citizens. There is no ‘gratitude’ on the part of the Supreme Leader.

The ‘bad cop’ policy is sanctions. The problem with this approach is that North Korea is already buried in sanctions. The UN (with China’s vote) has already banned the import of weapons and certain types of technology, as well has freezing North Korean funds overseas. It’s hard to see how much more sanctions you can put on the country.

So what now?

The most productive step would probably be for the UN to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court. This does send a very powerful message to the leaders of North Korea, that they are being held personally responsible for the deaths of their people. Whether they will listen is another matter. Something else the UN could authorise would be the stepping up of other methods such as information warfare. One commenter suggested on Wednesday that smuggling in DVDs with information about the outside world would be effective. This would certainly help to break through some of the brainwashing, though people caught with any such DVDs would most likely be shot immediately. It would however keep up the pressure on North Korea to engage in some way with the outside world.

The major problem with all of this is China, and their veto in the UN. China is North Korea’s only ally, even if they have voted for sanctions on them. However they are inclined to vote against more far-reaching measures against North Korea. Firstly they’re afraid of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans flooding the border if the country suddenly collapses. Secondly, if North Korea joined the South it would be mean the almost 30000 US soldiers in South Korea would be on the Chinese border. The last time that happened was in the Korean War, and it didn’t end well. Thirdly, China always worries that if the UN goes after countries for their human rights, China itself will be next. Their record on the matter is not good, especially when it comes to Tibet.

However, I believe it’s possible to make a deal with China. North Korea is an embarrassment to them, and China has repeatedly shown that it doesn’t have unlimited patience with its ally. Firstly the US would need to assure China that it would not have any troops in a unified Korea. Another possibility would be secret agreements with China on other matters. For example, the US could agree to stop supporting Taiwanese and Tibetan efforts and organisations. However the most important thing that can be done is publicly putting pressure on China to stop returning North Korean refugees. This is one of the most important things this report has done – it puts pressure on China.

The other thing to consider is what will happen if the North Korean regime collapses. 25 million people who are living in a dystopian, brainwashed world will suddenly be confronted with the 21st century. It’s hard to imagine how South Korea and the international community will deal with this. The integration of Eastern Germany was hard enough, and North Korea is far, far worse off.

A third problem is that North Korea has nuclear weapons. Relatively small ones to be sure, but Seoul is barely 50 km from the border. The North Korean army could practically throw a missile and still cause hundreds of thousands of deaths. These nukes are a factor in every discussion on North Korea.

Thanks to these problems, for all the great powers it is simply easier if the situation stays as it is. But at some point the international community needs to take a stand on this moral issue. This is one of the most clear-cut cases of large-scale human rights abuses the world has ever seen. We cannot stand aside and wait while people suffer. We know what is happening. Hopefully, this will finally be the time the international community acts.

New Year’s Predictions

It’s a special New Year’s post today, but on Sunday it’ll be back to explaining your world!

Every year brings huge stories that no one expected, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Some news stories though are a bit easier to see coming. So without further ado, my January 1st predictions for the news in 2014!

1. Nothing will really change in Syria

Unfortunately, I can’t really see anything changing in Syria in 2014. This year the rebels became more and more divided, almost turning the conflict into a four way civil war between the government, the secular/moderate rebels, the Islamist rebels and the Kurdish rebels. Each of these groups is in turn backed by other Middle-Eastern countries, and even the US and Russia are involved.

Firstly this means that no one faction is likely to fail, as they all have constant support from outside the country. It also means that while the government is unlikely to regain the whole country, the rebels are too divided to triumph. More importantly though it means that peace negotiations are almost impossible. With hundreds of rebel groups in 4 main factions, getting them all to the negotiating table will be extremely difficult. My unfortunate prediction is that in a year’s time the situation will be unchanged, with the only real difference being thousands more Syrian deaths.

2. No conflict between China and Japan

China and Japan are involved in a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which sit between the two countries and are above rich natural resources. The relationship got worse in recent months after China proclaimed an “Air-Defence Zone” above the islands, and the Japanese Prime Minster visited a shrine which commemorates Japanese war criminals.

While it looks like things can’t get much worse, a real conflict is still very unlikely. Japan and the US have had a mutual defence treaty for over 60 years. Furthermore the US has told China that the Senkaku Islands fall under the treaty. While China is becoming steadily more nationalistic in its foreign policy, its leadership knows that true conflict over the islands would be devastating for its economy. So while there might be bad feeling between the two, I don’t predict any conflict this year.

3. An awkward Winter Olympics for Russia

While this might not be a very daring prediction, it is one which has more than one reason. The first and most obvious is the potential for embarrassing protests by gay-rights activists. Putin’s ‘gay propaganda’ law has brought enormous attention to the lack of gay-rights in Russia, and numerous celebrities and organisations have called for boycotts or protests at the games.

However after the two suicide bombings in Volgograd earlier this week the government will be even more afraid of a terrorist attack on the Games. That would turn the event into a humiliation for Russia instead of the return to the world stage Putin is hoping for. I’m predicting a Games more focussed on Russian society and politics than the actual sports, making this one awkward Olympics.

4. French troops in Africa for another year

The French have a long history of intervention in Africa, and not all of it good. Many times their soldiers helped a dictator keep power, or gain it through a coup.. In 2013 however the French were intervening in Mali and the Central African Republic with the blessing of the UN.

In Mali they smashed the advance of Islamist rebels, and in the C.A.R they intervened to stop religious violence. However the situation in these countries is still unstable and the potential for more violence is there. South Sudan, just north of the C.A.R is now also in chaos. Combine this need for peacekeepers in Africa, and a French president who wouldn’t mind distracting people from economic strife at home, and the chance that the French will be in action across Africa in 2014 is high.

5. A new country – Catalonia

This prediction is going out on a limb. The Spanish government has said a referendum on independence “will not take place”. The Spanish parliament is against it. However I still think the referendum on whether Catalonia will become an independent country will take place as the provincial government has planned, on the 9th of November 2014.

The elected Catalonian parliament has set a date for it to take place, and to go against that would seem very undemocratic in an EU country. The province has a history of independence movements, and opinion polls shows that the majority of Catalonian voters are in favour. While independence would be devastating for the Spanish economy, I still predict that the UN will gain a new country a year from now.

So for what that’s worth, those were my predictions for the news in 2014. We’ll see in 2015 how I did. If you disagree with my predictions or have some of your own, I’d be interested in hearing them!