by Anna Tan
In recent years, the world has seen a rising number of civil protests and movements globally. The eruption of the Hong Kong crisis in mid-2019, where mainstream political dialogues reached a new level of fixation on the increasingly looming authoritarian power of China that pervades well beyond its mainland territories, shook many of us. The rise of China has been overwhelmingly redefining the overall regional security of the Asia Pacific, and how that development influences the shift in the nature of international relations is undoubtedly dependent on the alliance of the Asian countries with the West, especially with the United States.
Reflecting on Müllerson’s theory on the relationship of intrastate human rights and international security[1}, it is indisputable that China under Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a very strong authoritarian state, and its overtly aggressive policies against Hong Kong’s mass civil resistance not just made headlines for an incredibly sustained period of time throughout the year, but also threatens the international stability by means of possible similar aggressions. It threatens liberal democratic values that are upheld by many free and democratic nations from across the world, especially in a time where American influence has been on a rapid decline since the assumption of the Trump administration. In the Asia Pacific, while nations such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea face new challenges in manoeuvring through the changing dynamics of international security now jeopardised by the “America first” policy of the United States, other countries such as Myanmar welcome the rising Chinese hegemony. Why and how does this happen?
This Strife Series explores the interplay between human rights and security through diplomatic exchanges in the Asia Pacific. The series analyses how in some countries, addressing human rights, democratic freedom and maintaining status quo national and/or regional security seem to be mutually exclusive at times instead of being mutually reinforcing, despite sharing the common factor of China’s domineering economic leverage.
In the first article (12/2019) “China’s Turbulent Year: 2019”, Professor Kerry Brown analyses how China’s aggression in response to the Hong Kong protests and its draconian policies to the Uighur population in Xinjiang have both comparable ‘tit-for-tat’ elements that the Chinese leadership may not have thought through carefully, but will have detrimental consequences to the international opinion on China’s usually very cautious and deliberate efforts on maintaining its diplomatic image.
In the second article (01/2020) “China, Myanmar, War Crimes and the Issue of National Sovereignty”, Anna Tan looks at how Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, has strangely shifted from being a Western ally during the landmark victories of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 2015 elections to an even stronger adherence to China’s orbit than ever before. She describes how the Sino-Burmese relations have evolved dramatically under the light of the Rohingya conflict in Rakhine and Myanmar’s subsequent genocide trial at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The third article (03/2020) “Taiwan Elections: Continuity, Change and the Cross-Strait Conundrum”, Evita Liagka explores what the victories of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under the leadership of Tsai Ing-wen could mean for the future of Taiwan and its cross-strait relations. She points out that the China-Hong Kong crisis came in a convenient timing for DPP’s mobilisation of garnering greater support than ever before and since the public consensus on maintaining the status quo international diplomatic status of Taiwan has remained largely unchanged, we might not see a drastic shift in DPP’s policies from its previous term. However, KMT’s recent decision to swerve away from its pro-China stances might pose newer challenges for Taiwan in the years ahead.
The final articles are contributed by Yeseul Woo, analysing North Asia’s security issues from the perspective of South Korea.
- In Part 1 (02/2020) “South Korea’s Dangerous Silence on Human Rights Abuses in North Korea”, Yeseul Woo argues why the US lack of sponsorship in the UN Security Council meeting on the discussion of North Korea’s human rights issues should not mean that South Korea should remain silent. Ms Woo explains why, in fact, South Korea’s silence justified by the importance of the nuclear security framework would actually be counterproductive in regional security in the long run.
- In Part 2 (03/2020) “The First Tech War? Why the Korea-Japan Tensions are about US-China Competition on AI”, Ms Woo further explains that South Korea’s silence on North Korea’s human rights issues for the sake of North Asia’s nuclear security (described in Part 1) is actually the result of the deterioration of Korea-Japan relations which has led to South Korea withdrawing from the GSOMIA pact. Though Seoul retracted its decision last minute, Ms Woo argues that the tensions between Seoul and Tokyo are less about the debate surrounding comfort women and wartime forced labour, and is actually influenced by the US-China competition on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in nuclear surveillance technology.
- Müllerson, R. (1997). “Human Rights Diplomacy.” Routledge.
Anna Tan is a postgraduate student for MSc Global Affairs at King’s College London. Her research is focused on how Western human rights diplomacy affects democracy and authoritarianism in Asia Pacific. She has previously worked for UNDP Myanmar and the American Red Cross, and is a member of the Programme Committee of the Conflict, Security and Development (CSD) Conference 2020 hosted by the Department of War Studies and the Department of International Development (DID). Anna holds a BSc in Neuroscience. You can follow her on Twitter: @AnnaTanGTW.
Anna Tan is a postgraduate and a student ambassador for Global Affairs at King’s College London. She is also a Series Editor on Strife Blog and Journal of the Department of War Studies and has formerly worked for UNDP and the American Red Cross. Her research is focused on Western Human Rights diplomacy vis-à-vis authoritarian states in Asia.