Workers at six out of ten factories in Dongguan owned by Taiwanese multinational Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings have been on strike since April 14 after discovering the company has not been paying its 70,000 employees legally required levels of social security and housing contributions. At least 10,000 Yue Yuen workers took to the streets the day the strike began. Yue Yuen produces shoes for sportswear brands including Nike, Adidas and Asics. The strike is emblematic of a new wave of labor struggles in Guangdong, where Dongguan is located, and other industrial regions of China. Samsung, Lenovo, Nokia and Wal-Mart are among the companies hit by stoppages in recent weeks. Strikes are up by almost one-third in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to research by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. The group's findings also reveal "a more forceful response from the local authorities," with a four-fold increase in police interventions and a sharp rise in arrests. This trend is confirmed by recent trials of worker activists and strike organizers. (Bloomberg, April 19; China Worker, April 17; China Labour Bulletin, April 14)
Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York March 18 to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US after the Guatemala Constitutional Court last May ruled in favor of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars US prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.
Hundreds of students remain barricaded in Taiwan's Legislature in protest of the ruling party's push for a Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement with the People's Republic of China. Protesters, most of them college students, stormed into the assembly hall of the Legislative Yuan, breaking the glass doors and blocking the entrances by piling up lawmakers' chairs to prevent police from entering. The protesters also took over the podium and rostrum in the chamber. The action was prompted March 18 when the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) cut short review of the trade agreement and sent the pact directly to the plenary session for its second reading. In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) boycotted the plenary session. Student leader Fei-fan Lin, speaking at a press conference, said: "We want the agreement to be recinded—not just back to the committee, but we want it thrown out, and tell China we are not signing this." (China Post, March 20; Taipei Times, CNN, VOA, March 19; Ketagalan Media, March 18)
Some 100,000 people from eight cities across Taiwan marked the approaching three-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster by taking to the streets to demand an end to nuclear power in the island nation. Protesters called for a halt to construction on the island's fourth nuclear power plant, now underway at Lungmen, as well as closure of the existing three installations. They also demanded the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, and that the government review its policy on the long-term management of radioactive waste. (Taiwan Today, March 10; China Post, March 9)
The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)
Well, it finally came to an actual clash—albeit, thank goodness, with water cannon, not actual munitions—over the contested East China Sea islands, and it was not China but Taiwan that provoked the escalation. On Sept. 25, some 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels accompanied by 12 patrol boats dispatched by Taipei entered waters off the islets that the Chinese call Diaoyu, the Japanese call Senkaku, and the Taiwanese call Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai. When a Japanese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon to disperse the fishing boats, a Taiwanese patrol ship fired its own water cannon at the Japanese ship. The Taiwanese ships were apparently given a warning to clear off but refused, asserting that they had the right to be in their own territorial waters. Many of the Taiwanese ships were flying banners declaiming their national right to the islands. The Taiwanese fleet, which approached the islands at around 8 AM, departed by midday, according to Japanese authorities. (Japan Times, Sept. 26; The Telegraph, Sept. 25)
The prospect of an actual shooting war between China and Japan got a little realer this week as both sides raised the stakes in the showdown over the barren East China Sea chain known as the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese and as the Senkaku Islands to the Japanese. Over the weekend, angry anti-Japan protests spread to 85 cities across China. In Beijing, protesters besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of protesters occupying a street in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Protesters broke into a Panasonic plant and several other Japanese-run factories as well as a Toyota dealership in Qingdao, Shandong province, ransacking and torching. In Shanghai, hundreds of military police were brought in to break up protesters outside the Japanese consulate, who chanted: ''Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!'' (China Digital Times, SMH, Kyodo, Sept. 17)
On Aug. 15—not coincidentally, the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II—a group of Chinese activists who had sailed from Hong Kong landed on Uotsurijima, one of the contested Senkaku Islands, and were promptly arrested by Japanese Coast Guard troops and Okinawa prefectural police. They succeeded in planting a Chinese flag on the island before five were arrested; another two managed to return to their fishing vessel and escaped. Japanese authorities say they will determine whether the detained men, now being held in Okinawa, will be prosecuted or deported back to Hong Kong. This was the first such incident since March 2004. But since 2009, the Hong Kong government has on six occasions stopped protest vessels from going to the contested islands. (Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 16; Xinhua, Japan Times, Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16