Northeast Asia: 2008 Review

The northeast Asia region is becoming more integrated politically, economically and socially. State leaders from China, Japan and South Korea recently signed a Joint Statement for Tripartite Partnership to address the serious challenges in the global economy and the financial markets. Peace talk between North and South Korea continues, while China and Taiwan have begun cross-strait direct flight. In 2008, issues related with the Beijing Olympics, food security, natural hazards and human rights, etc. are common concerns among people in the region.

China: Natural hazards, clashes, Made-in-China, Olympics and human rights

A week-long snowstorm that ravaged south China marked the beginning of 2008 in which the country suffers from abnormal natural hazards. Trains got trapped on halfway stations were crowded with tens of thousands migrant workers anxiously waiting to go home.

Natural hazards

Yet nature did not intend to let China go with only a blizzard.

May 12, Wen-chuan, 8.0Ms Earthquake claimed over 69,000 people, and many of them, unfortunately, are children. The country soon united for rescue and relief after the disaster, and besides the mass army force mobilized, a great many NGOs were born much like bamboo shoots to help millions of refugees. Citizens took actions to spread updated information, depending largely on the internet. International aid, such as that from Japan joined in since the value of human life transcended the state barriers. Though the earthquake will be a trauma of the nation forever, it will also be memorized as a monument for the courage with which people struggled for the survival and relief for both themselves and people around.

Food security

Of the global food crisis in 2008, perhaps nothing gained as much publicity as China's poisonous milk scandal. The scandal raised many questions surrounding the lacking role of the media in exposing corruption, what is considered adequate government regulation of food standards, and global interdependence.

The poisonous milk scandal raised questions about corporate responsibility; while the initial main culprit was the Sanlu Group, the scandal involved at least one fifth of all diary producers in the country, suggesting that adding melamine to diary products was an industry wide practice. It also got people wondering how many government officials were involved, what the role of the government in monitoring food safety is and setting adequate and acceptable food standards is. The scandal also led to criticism of government control of the media.

On a global level, the poisonous milk scandal showed how interconnected we are in the current age, in particular where even the EU commissioner felt compelled to make a statement by drinking Chinese milk to prove its safety, only to suffer mysteriously from kidney stones a few days later in a strange twist of fate.

Oppression-struggle-oppression, voices against injustice

2008 China witnessed a variety of ways citizens struggle for their rights and have their voices out and heard.

First of all, people strike.
As the economic growth more or less covered up social problems in the past has now faltered, social unrests erupt. Bus drivers, cabbies, and teachers have one after another launched strikes throughout the year and the country to argue for not only better pay but also a fairer rule of game. It's notable that because the government has stretched so far into nearly every corner of the economic department with its dominant power, the labor-employer conflicts have often transferred to be a confrontation between the public and the authority.

People petition and blog.
Even during the relief of the earthquake, our alert of possible corruption has never been swayed. We questioned, also, why so many innocent children were killed by the shoddy-quality, collapsed schools that should have withstood the impact of shaking. When being aware that what we ultimately need is nothing but a democratic political system to really let people's voices have their place, 08 Charters were proposed and signed.

However, even peaceful expressions, more often than not, are unacceptable by the authority. Criticizer of shoddy schools got detained, charter signers were interrogated, and petitioners, unluckily, were penned up in madhouse. Political activist, Hu Jia, won the European Parliaments’ Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought were still in jail. Internet speech were closely supervised, speech freedom of paper media were clamped, and bloggers were expelled out of heir blog hosts websites. What's left? Violence seems to be a doomed answer.

That's why in the “push-up incident”, over 10,000 people in Weng'an county directly attacked the party committee and government building when a girl was doubted to be raped and killed by boys with official background who escaped punishment.

Violent protest reached its second climax when Yangjia, a person who was said to be wronged by Shanghai police, killed 6 cops with 1 knife. His brutal deed, however, is debatably called a heroic action. And his sentence of death, on the other hand, is nevertheless thought to be a tragedy.

Olympics and Torch relay

Could Olympics dispel all the unpleasant? The Game itself has indeed reached the goal, but the torch relay, as a crucial part of the sport ceremony, preludes the Game with conflicts.

Spielberg's finger-point on Darfur issue kicked off the debate. It went further as in March 14 riot broke out in Tibet. While the western world sided with the unrest monks, patriotism triggered more Chinese to defend China's sovereignty over the land. Credit of western media bankrupted in Chinese people's mind, anti-CNN formed, and the debate turned white-out as the torch relay was spoiled in France in the name of defending human rights. A special coverage featured the entire story, and the comments after the post are as attractive as the entry itself.

Writers’ pick: Citizen reporter killed—by who? and Pollution map of China released.

Hong Kong: Cyberactivism

In Hong Kong, citizens are more active to use social networking tools for campaigning. The Sexy Photogate marked the confrontation between netizen and police at the beginning of 2008. Before the Beijing Olympics, bloggers formed a blogtorch chain and passed the torch around the blogosphere. During the Legislative Council election, facebook network of friends fooled the election poll. Environmental campaigns in Ha Pak Nai and Lung Mei also spread through facebook and internet forum. No wonder the government proposed to introduce mandatory internet censorship at the end of 2008, and probably we can see more bananas flying around in the Legislative council in 2009.

Writers’ pick: Save the Ha Pak Nai Wetland.

Japan: Culture, media and technology

Chris has written a Japan blogosphere year-end round up here.

Writers’ pick: Missing Pieces in Tainted Rice Scandal and Rikimaru Toho, the first manga narrating cantastoria

Korea: Political crisis, North and South

Soon after conservative Lee Myung Bak became the president in South Korea, his policy, in particular education was under criticism. Students demonstrated against the raise in tuition fees. The discontent among the youth, later developed into a marathon candle night vigil against the importation of American beef, a new political generation is in formation. Apart from the youth, even Buddhist monks were angry at the new president.

The relation between North and South Korea is still tense. A woman crossed the border by accident resulted in death and spy scandal happened now and then. The missing of Kim Jong Il in public function of course would lead to a lot of speculation. However, it is a relief that North Korea is no longer a listed terrorist-sponsoring state and some Korean decided to launch anti-propaganda campaign in the North by spreading propaganda leaflet. Then suddenly North Korea announced closing the land border and cutting non-military phone links with South Korea. Even train service was suspended.

Writers’ pick: A New Mobile Network and Chopsticks… Rather Complicated…

Macau: Article 23

In a city where an eyewitness report on bank run would be charged by police for “fabricating dangerous information”, the further introduction of national security law is really threatening.

Writers’ pick: Say No to Article 23 and White Terror.

Taiwan: Political Changes and protests

Taiwan changed their President and ruling party in 2008 from Chen Shui Bian (DDP) to Ma Ying Jeou (KMT). The change is not only significant to Taiwan society, it is also a precious lesson for mainland Chinese. Dramatically, with a few months, the former president became the key figure in the country's biggest corruption case, while the new president reminded people of the phantom of police state in dealing with protest during the visit of a mainland China official Chen Yunling. Students demanded to revise the parade and assembly law, but the government decided to harvest wild strawberries, a peaceful student movement for human rights, a few hours after the International Human Rights Day.

Photo courtesy of judie.

Direct flight between China and Taiwan has begun in 2008 marking a new era of cross-strait relation. However, it seems that ordinary Taiwan people has less concern about economic interest, but more about food security, mainland China banning of Taiwan movie Cape No.7, human rights in Tibet, and Taiwan Baseball's performance at Beijing Olympics.

Writers’ pick: Observations on Yahoo! Taiwan's search filter, The return of local cinema, not just cape no7, The flying saucer houses will be torn down, Racial commercials everywhere and No city for old aborigines

This article is collectively contributed by Bob Chen, David Reid, I-fan Lin, Hyejin Kim, Oiwan Lam, Lokman Tsui and Portnoy.


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