Asian Affairs: June 1-14, 2023
Diplomatic matters dominated the Asia-Pacific landscape throughout the first half of June, while domestic matters in Myanmar and Japan also sparked discussion on the course of their respective states.
US-China Communication Tension Highlights Shangri-La Dialogue
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a stark warning about the potentially catastrophic impact of a conflict over Taiwan, stating it would have far-reaching effects on the global economy. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, not only for regional security but also for the preservation of global supply chains and freedom of navigation.
However, Austin's comments were met with swift rebuttal from Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who accused the US of attempting to "consolidate hegemony and provoke confrontation." Jing's remarks came as US and Canadian warships were reported to be sailing through the Taiwan Strait, a move the US Navy described as a routine transit in accordance with international law.
Despite the escalating tensions, Austin highlighted a cordial interaction with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu at a banquet, but stressed the need for more substantive engagement. "A cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for serious engagement," Austin said. Austin had previously made public his disappointment that he and Li did not meet separately ahead of the Dialogue.
Meanwhile, Li, in his first significant international address since becoming defense minister, warned of a resurgence of a cold war mentality in the Asia-Pacific region. He accused "some countries" of intensifying an arms race and meddling in the internal affairs of others, in what appeared to be veiled criticisms of the US. Li, however, expressed Beijing's preference for dialogue over confrontation.
The Shangri-La Dialogue also saw Chinese military delegates downplaying the potential security threat posed by India. Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences argued that India's weak industrial infrastructure and the complexity of China's defense industrial platforms would prevent India from catching up to China's military capabilities in the foreseeable future.
The dialogue concluded amidst a backdrop of strained relations between Washington and Beijing over a range of issues, including Taiwan, the South China Sea, and restrictions on semiconductor chip exports. The recent close encounters between American and Chinese militaries have only added to the tension, underscoring the need for diplomatic engagement and dialogue to prevent further escalation.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro Visits Beijing, Honduras Opens Embassy in China
Coming off of a diplomatic coup which saw Honduras switch recognition from Taiwan to China, Xi Jinping has signaled that China is prepared to start free trade talks with the Central American country sooner rather than later. Honduras opened its embassy in Beijing on June 11, an occasion which coincided with Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s six-day state visit to the People’s Republic. The visit is Castro’s first to China since the two countries established ties in March.
During the visit, Xi announced that China would promote the entry of Honduran products into its domestic market. The two leaders also oversaw the signing of 17 bilateral agreements aimed at enhancing cooperation in the realms of trade, agriculture, Belt and Road construction, and more.
Honduras’ switch of diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China has been described by many as being driven by a search for increased foreign investment and assistance in tackling a national debt which reached $15.79 billion in 2022. The switch marked the continuation of a trend in Central and South America and the Caribbean in which Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have all opted to move their diplomatic missions from Taipei to Beijing. Regardless of motivation, the implications of Honduras’ partnership with China will be broad.
The news of Castro’s order for Honduras’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs to begin the process of formally recognizing Beijing as the sole government of China - a promise initially made on the campaign trail in 2021 - came weeks before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen embarked on a trip to Guatemala and Belize, which was largely overshadowed by her itinerary in the United States on both ends of the trek.
Myanmar Suspends UN Access to cyclone-hit Rakhine region
In the wake of Cyclone Mocha, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Myanmar, the country's ruling junta, known as the State Administration Council, has suspended humanitarian access to the already impoverished Rakhine state. This decision has paralyzed the humanitarian response to the cyclone and halted life-saving aid distributions to the storm-hit communities.
Cyclone Mocha, which made landfall on May 14, wreaked havoc in western Myanmar, with the coastal areas in Rakhine bearing the brunt of the cyclone's winds. The storm, with winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hour (195 mph), destroyed homes, livelihoods, and infrastructure, leaving about 1.6 million people heavily affected. Among these were thousands already displaced and reliant on humanitarian assistance before the storm hit.
Despite the dire need for international assistance, the junta did not lift the heavy travel restrictions in Rakhine state in the aftermath of the cyclone. Aid groups are required to apply for travel authorizations a month in advance, a process that has been criticized by aid officials.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported that more than 110,000 affected people have received shelter and other supplies, while food assistance has reached almost 300,000 people in Rakhine state. However, the junta's decision to suspend aid access has put a halt to these efforts.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator a.i Ramanathan Balakrishnan voiced his concern over the situation, stating, "Four weeks into this disaster response and with the monsoon season well underway, it is unfathomable that humanitarians are being denied access to support people in need." He urged the junta to reconsider its decision and reinstate the initial approval for aid distribution.
The suspension of international aid is not only affecting the international organizations but also local groups operating in the state. There are fears that their access will be restricted and their supplies confiscated. The situation is further exacerbated by the arrival of the monsoon season, with heavy rains and flooding reported in some areas hit by the cyclone.
The junta's decision to suspend aid access unnecessarily prolongs the suffering of those without food or shelter, increasing the risk of food insecurity and water-borne diseases. The international community is urged to take note of this crisis and provide the necessary support to the people of Myanmar in their time of need.
Former Samsung Executive Indicted: High-Stakes Tech Espionage Case Shakes Up the Semiconductor Industry
A former executive of Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, who is considered a top expert in South Korean semiconductor manufacturing, has been indicted. The 65-year-old, whose name has not been disclosed, is accused of planning to build a factory in Xi'an, China, based on Samsung's designs. The proposed site was less than a mile away from Samsung's existing manufacturing plant in the same city.
The suspect's plan was not just to build a similar factory, but to duplicate the entire Samsung factory. If successful, this would have caused significant damage to South Korea's strategically important semiconductor industry, which accounts for 17 percent of the country's exports.
The case highlights the increasing pressure on South Korea as it finds itself caught in the crossfire of the US-China rivalry. With both superpowers vying for dominance in the tech industry, South Korea's leading role in semiconductor manufacturing has become a focal point of contention.
The former executive was arrested last month but was officially indicted on Monday, June 12. Alongside him, six other people have been indicted for their involvement in the case.
This case underscores the high stakes and intense competition in the global semiconductor industry. It also raises serious questions about the lengths some individuals and companies are willing to go to gain a competitive edge. As the trial unfolds, it will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on the broader issues surrounding intellectual property rights, corporate espionage, and the fierce competition in the global tech industry.
Japan's Lower House Approves LGBT Rights Bill Amidst Criticism and Debate
Japan's Lower House passed a contentious bill on Tuesday aimed at promoting understanding of sexual minorities, marking a significant step towards enacting the legislation by the end of the current parliamentary session. The bill, primarily designed to prohibit unjust discrimination based on sexual orientation, has sparked controversy due to a clause stipulating that "all citizens can live with peace of mind." Critics argue that this clause prioritizes the rights of the majority over those of sexual minorities.
The legislation has been met with criticism from LGBTQ groups, who argue that it fails to adequately protect the interests of sexual minorities and instead caters to those who exacerbate discrimination. Despite these concerns, the bill has moved swiftly through the legislative process, passing through a Lower House committee after just one day of deliberations.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, accepted several proposals from opposition parties and incorporated them into the original version of the bill. However, other opposition parties, including the main Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, voted against the bill, citing concerns about the definition of certain terms within the legislation and their potential impact on its practical implementation.
The bill's passage comes at a time when Japan lags behind other Group of Seven advanced nations in terms of legal protections for sexual minorities. The country currently lacks laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals and legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions, leading to mounting pressure both domestically and internationally for such legislation.
Despite opposition from conservative LDP lawmakers who uphold traditional family values, the bill was passed in consideration of Prime Minister Kishida's desire to secure its passage during the current parliamentary session, scheduled to close on June 21. The bill is now expected to be passed by the House of Councilors, the upper house, by the end of next week.
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