East Asia Digest | March 2020



• Overview 
• Developments in China
• Developments in Japan

• Developments in South Korea

• Developments in Hong Kong


I Overview


• President Xi visits Wuhan
• China’s Propaganda Machinery in full swing on Corona Virus
• Xi Jinping speaks on telephone with UN Secretary General
• China issues Report on Human Rights Situation in the U.S.


• Latest statistics on Corona Virus
• Tokyo Olympic Games in doubt
• New US Ambassador to Japan selected

South Korea:

• South Korea does well in controlling the corona virus

Hong Kong:
• Leader of HK’s “Occupy” Movement released from jail

II Developments in China
President Xi visits Wuhan
Chinese President Xi Jinping finally visited Wuhan the epicenter of the corona virus on 10 March. While official Chinese publications followed the Communist Party line that this visit by China’s supreme leader will boost confidence in the fight against the virus, private commentary is questioning why he is visiting so late. Apparently, many Chinese people have been openly questioning Xi’s decision to stay away from Wuhan and Hubei Province while the epidemic was at its worst. There can be little doubt that Xi’s standing in the country has taken a beating due to his absence from the epicenter of the fight against the corona virus.
China’s Propaganda Machinery in full swing on Corona Virus
With the peak of the corona virus epidemic having passed in China, the official propaganda machinery there is in full swing with the official New China News Agency or Xinhua putting out stories with titles such as “Seven things China has done right to battle corona virus”. The fact that many people outside China also seem to be taking this line is surprising especially a comment by Jim O’Neill, chair of UK think tank Chatham House and the man who coined the word BRICS, which makes an odious comparison between China and India shows that there are indeed takers for Chinese propaganda.
Xi Jinping speaks on telephone with UN Secretary General
Chinese President Xi Jinping is reported to have had a telephone conversation on 12 March with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres thanking him for his letter of solidarity with China on the corona virus outbreak and his recognition of China’s efforts to contain it. Xi is reported to have said that China is willing to share its experiences with other countries and work with them to develop new drugs to counter such diseases. Apparently, the UN Secretary General is said to have replied that China’s support is critical to multilateralism.
China issues Report on Human Rights Situation in the U.S.
China issued its annual report on the Human Rights Situation in the United States on 13 March. Titled “The Record of Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2019” it shows that the situation in the US has been poor and deteriorating. What this implies is that even as China was busy domestically controlling the outbreak of the corona virus problem, other parts of its machinery continue to work in its trade, technology and now increasingly ideological battle with the United States.

III Developments in Japan

Latest statistics on Corona Virus
As of 12 March, there were 690 cases of corona virus infected persons in Japan, with 19 deaths having been recorded. This figure does not include the 697 cases reported from among the guests of the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Yokohama Port. 7 deaths have been reported on board the cruise ship. It will be recollected that the Government of India had evacuated 119 Indian nationals from the cruise ship on 27 February.
Tokyo Olympic Games in doubt
The Abe Government in Japan is in a quandary whether to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled for 24 July – 9 August, due to the impact on travel and congregation of the corona virus. Apparently, in a telephone conversation between PM Abe and President Trump on 13 March, the latter had suggested that Japan postpone the event. Given how many sports federations have decided to postpone sporting events, it is highly likely that this summer’s Olympics may also need to be deferred. A decision is likely to be taken in about a month’s time by end April after assessing the threat from the virus.
New US Ambassador to Japan selected
President Trump announced on 13 March that he has selected Kenneth Weinstein, President and CEO of the Washington based conservative think tank The Hudson Institute to be nominated as the new US Ambassador to Japan. As per US regulations he will have to be confirmed in this post by the US Senate. The last US Ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty stepped down in July 2019 to run for the Senate.

IV Developments in South Korea

South Korea does well in controlling the corona virus
As per the latest statistics, South Korea has 8086 corona virus infection cases and there have been 72 deaths in that nation from this epidemic. Overall, the Korean response to corona virus has been quick, effective and timely which has come in for praise from other countries. On 13 March, the number of recoveries exceeded the number of new cases for the first time since the outbreak of the virus.

V Developments in Hong Kong
Leader of HK’s “Occupy” Movement released from jail
Chan Kin-man, a retired sociologist and one of the leaders of the “Occupy” movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and who was sentenced to 16 months in jail last April for inciting and conspiring with others to cause substantial obstruction was released from jail on 14 March. Chan stated that he did not regret his time in jail since that is a price to be paid for upholding democracy. He criticized the Hong Kong Government for lacking in openness, transparency and impartiality. 


(The views expressed are personal)



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About the Author

Ambassador Gautam Bambawale

Former Ambassador of India to China and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre Former Ambassador to Bhutan, China and High Commissioner to Pakistan

Ambassador (Retd) Gautam Bambawale was a member of the Indian Foreign Service from 1984 to 2018. He was India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Pakistan and China.

Bambawale was stationed in Washington DC in 2004-07 during the Indo-US nuclear deal which transformed ties between the two countries. He has been India’s first Consul General in Guangzhou (China) 2007-09. He was Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, Berlin 1994-98.

Ambassador Bambawale worked in the Prime Minister’s Office 2002-04. At the Ministry of External Affairs he was Joint Secretary for East Asia from 2009-2014. Bambawale has dealt with China for 15 years of his 34 year diplomatic career. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and German.

Ambassador Bambawale is currently Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Symbiosis International University, Pune and teaches a course on Diplomacy and International Governance at the Symbiosis School of International Studies. He has an M.Phil. in Economics from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.