East Asia Summary: August 15-18, 2021

ASEAN has been replaced by Afghanistan as the main topic of interest in East Asia in recent days. China has derided the US failure in South Asia and warned Taiwan that the US would abandon them as they did the Afghans and South Vietnamese. The People’s Daily said Taiwanese media outlets and internet users were questioning US commitment.

A piece in The Taipei Times argued that Taiwan was more analogous to the Taliban in the Taiwan Strait since it was the smaller force and possessed a geographical advantage. Taiwan News says international recognition of the island state is “closer than ever”. “The likes of Lithuania and the Czech Republic are leading the way, but it is inevitable that more will follow. Taiwan’s policy of soft diplomacy is working wonders right now.”

China’s Global Times warned Lithuania, “When the US asks Lithuania to do things out of Washington’s strategic interests, the latter has no ability to say no. This explains why Lithuania, as a small country, has taken the initiative to provoke big countries” but “Lithuania cannot count on the US”.

The Korea JoongAng Daily said alarm bells are ringing in South Korea. Scaled-back joint military drills with the US and lax military discipline evidenced by continued sexual harassment within the force are weakening the military. The lesson from Vietnam and Afghanistan is the importance of being a reliable partner in the alliance. The Korea Herald sounded a similar note, blaming President Moon’s eagerness to reconcile with North Korea for falling morale in the South Korean army.

The North Korean foreign ministry again voiced its objections to the joint US-South Korean exercises, saying that the allies had pushed ahead with the drills “at a time when there is an emerging opportunity of shift in the situation of the Korean peninsula owing to the full restoration of inter-Korean communication channel” and thus “aggravating the situation” in East Asia.

A piece in China Military described the Japanese government as being “deranged” for not signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons(TPNW) and ignoring Japan’s responsibility for World War II. Another piece warned Japan of interfering in Taiwan: “It is time to wake up, inspect your history, and recognize that the perception of a ‘superior Japan that had the divine right to confront China and undermine its sovereignty, and attempting to do it even today as in the Taiwan Straits, is a fallacy.”

South Korean writers noted how President Moon sounded an unexpected note of conciliation. The Korea JoongAng Daily described Moon’s hardline stance towards Japan over the last four years as a “failure”, although Japan shares blame too. The Hankyoreh criticized Japan’s “lurch to the right” as evidenced by Japanese Prime Minister Suga for making no mention of Japan’s responsibility for World War II at a memorial service for Japan’s fallen soldiers.

Japan’s The Mainichi said the “disaster of World War II was brought on by the optimism of the Imperial Japanese Army” and that ordinary Japanese were forced to suffer from the war, much as they are being asked to carry a disproportionate share of the burden of COVID-19. They warned, moreover, of dictatorship in Germany and Japan during World War II rising “under a state of mobilization” and said the Diet needs to be strengthened after the general election at the end of October. The Asahi Shimbun was focused on a brewing succession/constitutional crisis in the Japanese imperial family.

China has continued to attempt to turn the pandemic into a question of human rights, arguing that Beijing has succeeded in protecting the human right to life and subsistence where the US has failed. The China Daily terms this “whole-process democracy”. It also accused the US of being an international superspreader due its mismanagement of the pandemic combined with its sprawling global military presence.

Chinese outlets also trumpeted the Chinese government’s victory over the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong which was recently disbanded. A spokesperson from the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office  said former members “will never escape punishment”.


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