from Asia Unbound

Rakhine Lockdown, Hong Kong Disqualifications, Choigate, and More

November 18, 2016

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South Korea

Human Rights


Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Rohingyas suffer under Rakhine lockdown. Myanmar’s Rakhine State, home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslims self-identified as Rohingya, has been on military lockdown since October 9 following attacks on three border security posts. Government officials claim that the perpetrators were members of a jihadist organization, and that military exercises are counterterrorism measures. The military’s goal is to eradicate the presence of the group Aqa Lul Mujahidin, which is reportedly linked to the Organization for Rohingya Security, an armed group active during the 1990s. Over 130 people have died and 234 have been arrested in the heaviest wave of violence in the region since 2012. The local Rakhine government has vowed to demolish all “illegal” structures, including over 2,500 homes, 600 shops, twelve mosques, and over thirty schools, all belonging to Rohingya. As of November 13, Human Rights Watch has identified via satellite over 430 destroyed buildings in villages that have become military strongholds where food is scarce and rape and looting by soldiers are common occurrences. The organization is calling for Myanmar’s government to establish a UN-assisted investigation, but authorities are rejecting all allegations of violence and closing off the area to Western journalists. At least 500 Rohingya refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh where they are residing in four refugee camps.

2. Pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers disqualified from taking office. Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching, elected in September, had willfully and deliberately insulted China by refusing to swear allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China,” in effect declining to take their oaths. During their swearing-in, they had referred to the “Hong Kong nation” and used a derogatory term for China, while wearing flags saying “Hong Kong is not China.” The court’s decision was expected after Beijing’s recent announcement that anyone advocating for the city’s independence would be barred from holding office there. Leung and Yau intend to contest the ruling. A different attempt to unseat a pro-democracy lawmaker failed Friday, when the High Court dismissed the case against Lau Siu-lai, who had registered her protest by taking extremely long pauses during her swearing-in.

3. Choigate continues to roil Korean politics. President Park is facing a second investigation into her ties with confidante Choi Soon-sil, who allegedly used her close relationship with Park to coerce Korean companies into donating millions to nonprofit foundations used by Choi for personal gain. In response to concerns voiced by opposition leaders that the Ministry of Justice is linked too closely to the president and the executive branch to conduct a credible investigation, the National Assembly passed a measure on Thursday appointing an independent special counsel to conduct a separate probe in addition to the one being conducted by the Ministry of Justice. Despite weeks of massive public protests, increasing calls in the National Assembly for her to resign or be impeached, and with her approval rating hovering between 5 and 10 percent, Park seems intent on completing her single, five-year term of office that ends next year.

4. Blasphemy case brought against Jakarta governor. The investigation into Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian from Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community, stems from comments he made in reference to a Quranic verse that some believe bans Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader. Basuki, who also goes by the nickname Ahok, implied this interpretation might be used to draw voters away from him during his re-election campaign. Although he apologized for his comments, there have been ongoing protests against him including a rally of more than one hundred thousand on November 4. Other supporters, however, including Muslims, have rallied around him in advance of the February election. According to authorities, Ahok’s case could go to court in approximately one month and a travel ban will be placed on him during the investigation. Blasphemy convictions can result in up to five years of jail time under Indonesian law.  Ahok assumed his current position when former governor Joko Widodo was elected president. And while the two have been political allies in the past, the blasphemy investigation may strain ties between them and project an image of Indonesia as a nation of religious intolerance.

5. Abe meets Trump. Last night at Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for an unofficial ninety-minute meeting. Though the get-together was hastily planned, and just a brief stopover for Abe on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru this weekend, there were hopeful signs from both sides: Trump called it the start of a “great friendship,” and Abe claimed he was “convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence.” But the two leaders will need to do more than establish a personal rapport in the coming years to make the alliance work. Trump suggested during his campaign that Japan should acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself and that it should share more of the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan, throwing into question his support for the alliance. He also made promises to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would buoy Japan’s flagging economy. If that happens, China is likely to fill the free-trade vacuum with its own deal.

Bonus: Chinese internet hails the pheasant-elect. Images of a golden pheasant bird at China’s Hangzhou Safari Park flew across the web after a local journalist observed the similarities between the bird’s flaxen coif and that of President-elect Donald Trump. The bird, named Little Red for its crimson body, garnered much attention among Chinese netizens, some of whom found the bird more attractive than Trump. While the bird’s online popularity may not last much beyond the next news cycle, Little Red’s keeper indicated that he expected the bird’s popularity to draw more visitors to the park. And the golden pheasant isn’t the only of nature’s creatures that have earned Trumpian comparisons; others include caterpillars, rabbits, and howler monkeys.