World

Japanese defence white paper links the country’s security to Taiwan for the first time. Jacinda Ardern apologises for dawn raids on Pacific migrants in the 1970s. France to press ahead with vaccination passes despite protests. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Death of Belarusian activist treated as suspicious

Supporters of Vitaly Shishov attend a rally next to the Belarusian embassy in Ukraine to commemorate the activist, who was found hanged in a park near his home this week.
Credit: Reuters / Gleb Garanich

Great power rivalry

Japan: Usually, the front covers of Japan’s yearly defence white papers feature innocuous images of flowers or planet Earth. But the cover of this year’s report, issued in July, shows a menacing sketch of an armoured samurai atop a rearing horse.

The strident tone continues inside the report, which, for the first time in such a document, directly linked Japan’s security to that of Taiwan. The report warned that the military balance between China and Taiwan was increasingly tilting in China’s favour.

“Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” it said.

In recent weeks, Japanese leaders have also begun to openly express concerns about the growing threat to Taiwan.

Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s defence minister, told the Financial Times this week that the international community was not paying enough attention to the “survival of Taiwan”.

“We’re seeing various moves by China that work to envelop Taiwan,” he said.

Kishi’s comments followed a recent claim by Japan’s deputy prime minister, Tarō Asō, at a political fundraiser, that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be seen as an existential threat to Japan.

“If a major problem took place in Taiwan … Japan and the US must defend Taiwan together,” Asō said.

Tokyo’s warnings followed growing tensions around Taiwan, including intensified intrusions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwanese air space. Japan and the United States have reportedly been holding military exercises and war games to prepare for a possible conflict.

A Chinese spokesperson described Asō’s comments as dangerous, saying Beijing would not allow other countries to “interfere in the Taiwan question”.

Japan, like the US and Australia, has a “One China” policy and does not recognise Taiwan as a separate state.

Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island, is about 110 kilometres from the coast of Taiwan.

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: In October 1976, Tesimoni Fuavao, who was then 20 years old, woke to hear banging on the front door of the house in Auckland in which he lived with his parents and youngest brother. Fuavao looked out the window and, as he told a royal commission last month, saw “heaps of police officers standing around the house”. It was 4.30am.

Fuavao, whose family had moved from Tonga more than a year earlier, watched as a police officer handcuffed his mother and pushed his brother away.

“Everything happened so quickly,” he said. “I asked the officer, why are you doing that? And the officer said that they deserved it because they had overstayed.”

Fuavao’s parents were victims of New Zealand’s infamous dawn raids of the 1970s, in which police and immigration authorities targeted Pacific migrants and arrested and deported them for overstaying their visas. Pacific people were far more likely to be raided and prosecuted than Britons and Americans, who overstayed their visas in roughly equal numbers. Aside from early morning raids, Pacific people were regularly stopped and interrogated by police.

Last weekend, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, issued a formal apology to the Pacific community for the episode and its enduring legacy. The raids split families and left victims scarred by what they regarded as public shaming.

At an official ceremony, Ardern said the raids remain “vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted”.

“It lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities,” she said. “And it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities that these events … have gone unaddressed.”

Fuavao’s parents were detained for a week and moved back to Tonga eight months later, eventually returning to New Zealand after about a decade. “I carried the shame of what happened and people knowing throughout my life,” Fuavao said.

Democracy in retreat

Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, is believed to have deliberately sent a wave of migrants into neighbouring Lithuania as part of an attack against sanctions imposed by the European Union.

Lithuanian and EU officials say a Belarus travel agency has arranged flights and tourism visas for migrants from Iraq and that Belarusian border guards have been transporting the arrivals to the border with Lithuania.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 4000 migrants have crossed into Lithuania, a nation of 2.7 million people. Typically, about 70 migrants a year cross the border without permission.

In June, Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”, threatened to allow migrants and drugs to stream into Europe as retaliation against sanctions that were imposed after the grounding of a Ryanair plane flying over Belarus and the arrest of a dissident journalist and his partner who were on board.

Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, said this week that the growing number of migrants was a “state-sponsored weapon” orchestrated by the Lukashenko regime. Belarus denied responsibility, saying the migrant influx was due to a weakening of Covid-19 restrictions.

The EU provided border guards to Lithuania and warned that it would take additional action against Belarus.

Separately, a Belarusian activist who lived in Ukraine, Vitaly Shishov, was found hanged this week in a park near his home. Shishov assisted Belarusians to flee persecution. Police said they were investigating a suspected murder.

Spotlight: French health pass

The French government is pressing ahead with a Covid-19 health pass despite growing protests that have attracted hundreds of thousands of people and led to the mass deployment of police.

The passes, approved by parliament in July, are required to enter cinemas, museums, libraries and swimming pools. From this week, the passes will also be needed at cafes, bars and restaurants. To obtain a pass, a person must be fully vaccinated, or have recently tested negative or recovered from the virus.

The measures were introduced to combat a surging outbreak of the Delta strain. Case numbers had steadily declined from April but have increased in recent weeks to as many as 27,000 a day.

Despite polls showing most people support the new passes, protests against them have attracted increasing support from both anti-vaxxers and those who believe the passes infringe on personal freedoms. Last weekend, 204,090 people demonstrated at almost 200 protests, according to the interior ministry, up from 161,000 the previous week.

The protests have turned increasingly violent, prompting the deployment of about 3000 police and anti-riot officers in Paris last weekend.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, released a video on Instagram and TikTok this week to try to appeal to younger people to get vaccinations. Wearing a T-shirt, Macron said he wanted to combat misinformation about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Mass protests have also erupted in recent weeks against vaccine passports in Italy and Germany, as Covid-19 case numbers rise in both countries. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 7, 2021 as "Death of Belarusian activist treated as suspicious".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.