ClimateWatch: East Asia

ClimateWatch periodically analyzes the security climates of the world’s regions, focusing on conditions and developments affecting the most vulnerable identity communities while highlighting meaningful political and social steps towards security and integration. This week’s East Asian report summarizes developments in identity security from late July through mid-August.

In East Asia, China dominated security news as conditions for government critics and dissidents deteriorated in the fallout from the mass detention of human rights lawyers and activists. With at least one lawyer already accused of “inciting subversion,” rights monitors expect formal charges to be brought against the advocates.

Despite normally enjoying relative autonomy from the Chinese authoritarian system, Hong Kong also saw the creeping effects of the crackdown on dissidence as two of the leaders of 2014’s Occupy Central movement were charged with “illegal assembly” for their activities during the protests. Similar crackdowns on dissidence took place in Myanmar, where the ousting of parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann led to the blackout of two publications sympathetic to the politician.

Restrictions on Catholic religious activity in China loosened as authorities announced their intention to recognize a second Vatican-ordained bishop in Henan province, a welcome announcement for the 8-12 million Catholics in a country whose diplomatic relations with the Holy See ended in the mid-20th century.

The announcement was little more than a distraction for many of the Christians in Zhejiang province who saw the crosses atop their churches torn down as part of a government campaign to limit public religious imagery. The government has continued to take a strong stance against public religious expression in the name of national security concerns, which has affected everything from Christian religious iconography to Muslim holiday rituals throughout the country.

For Tibetans and Uyghurs, religious suppression has only compounded insecurity created by China’s ethnic assimilation policies. While criminalizing allegiance to the Dalai Lama, China has undertaken a new resettlement program to bring Tibetans into the more developed areas of the Chinese interior. The move has been praised by some as an attempt to elevate the quality of life for the historically nomadic population and condemned by others as a means of further control and destruction of Tibetan identity.

However, as a demonstration of its commitment to ethnic diversity in a nation with more than 90% of its population belonging to a single ethnic group, the government facilitated the 10th National Traditional Games for Ethnic Minorities. The quadrennial multicultural festival included Han athletes for the first time in athletic competitions from historical ethnic traditions.

The divergence in women’s security across the region was on view as concerted efforts to boost women’s economic inclusion in Hong Kong contrasted with the trafficking situations faced by Rohingya women in the southeast. While Hong Kong business leaders celebrated coordinated efforts between public and private entities to increase women’s representation in the tech industry, Rohingya women and their advocates discussed how lack of awareness and support has allowed human traffickers manipulate their dire situations to sell them into marriage or prostitution in places like Kuala Lumpur.

The Lookout
  • Thailand
    The hunt and prosecution of the Bangkok bomber–currently known only as a “foreigner”–could lead to insecurity for immigrants, international visitors, and ethnic and religious minorities as the military government lacks a history of sensitivity to community distinctions in national security crackdowns.
  • Myanmar
    The lead-up to the general election in November will likely stir up poor social conditions for religious and ethnic minorities as politicians have a history of playing to demographic divisions for political purchase.
  • China
    Conflict between Uyghurs and authorities has led to large waves of emigration to Turkey, which has stoked tensions between the two governments as attacks on Asian visitors in Istanbul and government antagonism of Muslims in Xinjiang have created poor on-the-ground conditions.