5 stories you’ve heard way too much about … and 5 that, unfortunately, went under the radar

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

Over-reported

1. North Korean threat looms … and looms

North Korea was no stranger to headlines this year as the country continued to assert its presence with their political maneuvering. The country made waves earlier this year when news came out that it had bulked up its nuclear defense in response to joint South Korean–U.S. military exercise drills.

In May, the South Korean navy ship Cheonan, carrying 104 crewmembers, sank in the Yellow Sea near North Korea. Forty-six people died. A South Korean-led international investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo was behind the sinking. Despite worldwide condemnation, North Korea denied any responsibility for the incident. The United Nations Security Council made a statement condemning the attack.

However, it did not specify an attacker.

North Korea continued to antagonize its southern counterpart by bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea last month. North Korea fired 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians, and injuring 19 others. South Korea retaliated by shelling North Korean gun positions.

The Yeonpyeong incident has escalated the tension between North and South Korea. North Korea has received international rebukes for the attack. Many countries are urging both sides to practice restraint in retaliation.

2. Google and China go head-to-head over Internet censorship

In response to Chinese hackers breaking into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google threatened to withdraw its presence from China earlier this year. The company also vowed to cease filtered search results in the country until both parties could reach a new agreement on censorship.

Because of Hong Kong’s independent judicial power, the tech giant decided that all censored search results on its Chinese site, google.cn, would automatically be redirected to google.hk — Google’s unfiltered website in Hong Kong. Although Google services like Google Maps and Gmail were still available to users, all attempts to use google.cn resulted in web errors.

Chinese government officials, unwilling to back down, told Google that they would revoke the company’s Internet license in the country if auto-redirect searches continued. Not wanting to risk revocation, Google stopped redirecting web searches in China.

However, Google still placed a link to google.hk on mainland China’s Google homepage.

But what about the typical web user in China?

It turns out that most Chinese citizens could care less about Google’s web presence in their country.

Most Chinese Internet surfers use baidu.com — Google’s main competitor in China — or use circumvention technology to access blocked websites.

3. “The Cove” ignites outrage in dolphin enthusiasts around the world

The Oscar-winning American documentary “The Cove,” which exposes dolphin drive hunting in Taiji, Japan, ignited the hearts not only of the Academy’s Board of Governors but also marine animal activists around the world.

The film — which shows captured cetaceans sold into captivity or slaughtered inside a cove — sparked outrage and inspired activism, including numerous demonstrations decrying the dolphin drive hunts, as well as the high-profile closure of a popular Los Angeles sushi restaurant, The Hump, for serving illegal whale meat. In a well-known move, dolphin enthusiast and “The Cove” star Ric O’Barry delivered a petition to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo that was signed by 1.7 million people from 155 countries. The petition demanded an end to the dolphin killings in Taiji.

The Japan Fisheries Agency overlooked the petition; they permit the hunting of 20,000 dolphins a year. The agency argued that the killings are no different than raising cows or pigs for slaughter.

4. Love her or hate her: Michelle Rhee resigns as Washington, D.C. chancellor

Korean American Michelle Rhee was known for her tough approach as former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools. Her controversial three-year tenure — hailed by education reform supporters and despised by teacher unions and community members — revolved around aggressive tactics that sought to transform a school system in which students have long produced low test scores.

Some of Rhee’s reform tactics included firing incompetent school administrators, closing down schools pushing past capacity, and renegotiating compensation and tenure for D.C. teachers.

Although Rhee managed to increase high school graduation rates, raise standardized test scores, and maintain high enrollment in the district in comparison to previous years, Rhee’s brash methods earned her low approval ratings from the community. Because of her lack of support after the defeat of incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had originally chosen Rhee as chancellor in 2007, Rhee decided to resign from her position in October.

5. Queen Kim Yu-Na reigns over Winter Olympics

All eyes were on South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na at the 2010 Winter Olympics. She dazzled judges and snagged the gold medal in the women’s figure skating singles from her longtime rival, Japan’s Mao Asada.

Her success inspired a country that had placed much hope in having their first figure skating Olympian, and it piqued the interest of new fans across the world.

Although the 20-year-old’s fame exploded internationally after the Olympics, she has long been a favorite in South Korea. Back home, Kim’s fame is unrivaled. She is known as the Queen of Figure Skating or “Queen Yu-Na” in her native South Korea.

Kim continued to dominate headlines throughout the year. She was honored as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2010. There was also the widely publicized end of her working relationship with her former coach, Brian Orser.

Under-reported

1. Liu Xiaobao is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but what about the Nobel Prize Laureates?

When news broke that the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobao, the world went wild — international peace supporters praised the win, while the Chinese government initially blocked the news from its media outlets and attempted to curtail domestic celebrations of Liu.

As worldwide controversy swirled around Liu, who is currently serving a jail sentence in China on subversion charges, the 2010 Nobel Laureates went widely unnoticed among international media outlets.

Among this year’s prizes, the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded jointly to Japanese chemists Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki, along with American scientist Richard F. Heck, for their breakthrough work in palladium-catalyzed cross coupling. All the 2010 Nobel Laureates were honored in Stockholm, Sweden, where they delivered their Nobel Lectures. Scientific and cultural events were held in their honor, with the week ending with the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.

2. Chinese coalminers suffer fatal accidents

While readers are certainly familiar with the famous rescue of 33 Chilean miners in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert, few readers are aware of the Wangjialing coal mine flood in the Shanxi province of Northern China.

When workers in the Wangjialing coal mine accidentally broke through an abandoned shaft that was filled with water, 153 workers were left trapped in different parts of the mine. With a water volume equivalent to 55 Olympic-sized swimming pools filling the mine, many feared the workers were killed.

However, rescue efforts went into full force as aid workers pumped out water and 115 workers were recovered after being trapped underground for eight days.

Although China has since outlined more safety rules pertaining to mining, the new standards are seldom followed.  Despite the high recovery rate of the Wangjialing incident, China suffered another setback after a gas explosion occurred in central Henan province, killing 37 miners.

3. Massive earthquake rocks China’s Qinghai province … did you hear about it?

China’s disasters were once again overlooked when an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 shook the Qinghai province in western China, killing more than 2,000 people. Because the Qinghai quake occurred after two other major international earthquakes — the equally strong earthquake that killed approximately 230,000 people in Haiti and the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that killed approximately 500 in Chile — it received far less international media attention.

Due to its isolation and the precarious position of the Qinghai region, it was difficult for Chinese officials to recover survivors and dispense aid to victims. The government also initially declined foreign help for these same reasons.

China ultimately accepted international aid, although reconstruction occurred at a slow pace due to the difficulty of working and transferring supplies to the province’s mountainous region.

On the bright side, reconstruction funds have provided the region with modern technologies and structures that will ride out the next big earthquake — hopefully, a situation the region will not have to test anytime in the near future.

4. Anti-government protest groups struggle to be heard in Thailand

While political unrest in the Philippines saturated international headlines in 2010, violent protests organized by the Thai anti-government group, the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), went under the radar.

UDD supporters — also known as “Red-Shirts” for wearing their literal namesake — consist of rural North and urban intellectual Thai citizens that claim PrimeMinister Vejjajiva came into power illegitimately only to act as a puppet for the military. Although the RedShirts have attempted protests in the past, this past spring saw tens of thousands of UDD supports swarming the country’s capital to bring down Vejjajiva.

During the protests, the Red-Shirts occupied popular Bangkok districts and clashed with military troops, leading to violence and the deaths of hundreds of supporters over a two-month period.

The government and UDD came to heads in May when the Red-Shirts received an ultimatum to cease protests or face the Thai army. After the army opened fire on protestors, Red-Shirt leaders surrendered and were arrested. While the government and protesters will not reach a compromise any time soon, many suspect that the Red-Shirts will not remain dormant for long.

5. Vietnamese immigrants — overlooked victims of the BP oil spill

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, accusatory fingers flew across the world over who was responsible for the horrific disaster. Meanwhile, the small community of Vietnamese immigrants in Louisiana — mainly comprising families that support their American livelihoods by fishing — were suddenly jobless after the oil spill. In this time of weak economy, these Asian immigrants face difficulty landing new jobs, particularly due to language and cultural barriers.

Despite these setbacks, many Vietnamese immigrants hope that their skills and boats will be hired for the oil spill cleanup. Anh “Joseph” Cao, a Vietnamese American U.S. representative for Louisiana, has hailed the Vietnamese fishermen for their culturally acquired ability to adapt to even the direst of situations. ♦

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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