North East Asia: “Trading” Human Rights
23 May 2007 7:00 pm

China uses human rights as a ‘trade-off” for large investment profits in Africa, resulting in poor local economies and exploitative working conditions, while its neighbour Japan offers financial assistance to developing countries in exchange for environmental disaster. Militarism is on the rise in Japan but civil society fights back, while the issue of political refugees and abductees take centre stage in China and the two Koreas.
China ignored its foreign policy of “peaceful coexistence” by expanding its investment in Africa, putting aside implications for human rights. This recent development is worrying as it could destroy local economies and create exploited labor conditions in African countries.  In neighbouring Japan, civil society organizations expressed their concern over overseas developmental assistance to developing countries in Asia; and how it has become the carrot stick in exchange for dumping toxic waste.

Peace and Human Security  

The outcome for peace and human security in Northeast Asia remains unclear as mixed indications are given by China, Japan and the two Koreas.  There is ongoing tension between civil society groups and the Japanese government as Japan's parliament approved a plan for a referendum to revise the country's pacifist constitution. On 3 May, Peace Boat , a Japanese based international NGO, organized a peace march in support of Article 9 of the constitution and expressed concern about Japan’s trend towards  militarism.

Meanwhile, China – Sudan’s leading trade partners, – continues to deny accusations against the country breaching a U.N. arms embargo to supply weapon as this would be used against  civilians. Appointing a special envoy for Darfur after US lawmakers warned the possibility of a “Genocide Olympics”, China attempts to convince the international community that they are actively involved in addressing the Darfur crisis.

China believes that the increasing financial investment will help resolve the conflict in Sudan in the long run, especially after the annual ADB (African Development Bank) meetings, held in China on 16-17 May. 1 However, Chinese investment to African nations, without considering protection for human rights and sustainable development is bound to spell disaster for local economies, eventually leading to exploitative  labor conditions.

On a more positive note, there was great anticipation for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula as trains crossed into the Demilitarized Zone for the first time in more than half a century. The Korean War which ended without a peace treaty left the two Koreas technically at war and this test run is considered to be the latest symbol of historic reconciliation of the Korean peninsula for some.

ESC Rights  

As a show of solidarity, more than 45 countries including the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and India participated in the first ever global day of action (GDA) against Japanese "waste colonialism". The event was organized by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Basel Action Network-Asia Pacific (BAN-AP), Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH-Asia) in Manila on May 2. 2

It raised international attention where civil society displayed their determination to denounce Japan's push for toxic waste trade liberalisation through overseas development assistance and investments with developing nations.

Refugees/ Asylum seekers  

Russia, in the last two months, has violated international laws twice by deporting individuals with UN refugee status to China. The act has raised eyebrows in the international community.

The two cases include Mr. Gao Chunman, an ethnic Chinese Falun Gong practitioner,  a deportee to China by Russian immigration officers, who entered his home on false pretences. The Falun Dafa Information Center issued an international urgent appeal to help secure his immediate release, condemning Russia for its blatant human rights violations.

Meanwhile, refugees and asylum seekers in Japan continue to face harsh conditions inside detention centers such as mental and physical abuse by officials and lack of medical care.

In South Korea, the issue of abduction arose when 30-year old South Korean abductee Choi Uk-il, 67, failed to obtain proper medical attention as he was declared dead after escaping North Korea last year . While this issue is yet to be addressed, new challenges arise as recent reports show that North Korean defectors previously settled in South Korea are seeking asylum in the US.