... makes a pretty strong argument.
Humanity has spent millennia creating laws and refining protocols so that our many countries can get along with one other, at least for a little bit. You'd think that at this point in history, we'd be semi-competent at good old-fashioned diplomacy. And we are ... most of the time. Other times, the rulebook goes straight into the fireplace and whole countries turn into the geopolitical equivalent of your crazy cousin who brought a gun to Christmas dinner.
Trinh Xuan Thanh was your run of the mill Vietnamese businessman/politician. Well, aside from the small matter of the state-owned company he ran, PetroVietnam Construction, losing $150 million during his tenure. Now, that's a terrible loss, but it's not illegal to be just ... really bad at your job (thank god). Well, we should say it's not illegal here. Thanh was charged with corruption, and unlike in America, that wasn't a ticket to Club Fed -- he was potentially facing the death penalty. The Vietnamese government had cleared him of wrongdoing, but then a more conservative wing of the Communist Party came to power and decided that they had a case against him. So instead of waiting around to see if he'd be executed, Thanh made his way to Berlin, where he applied for political asylum.
Under international law, Vietnam couldn't get Thanh back without Germany's say-so. But the extradition process was really long and boring. You know what's more fun? Batman.
Vietnam stole a page from The Dark Knight's playbook and straight up abducted Thanh from the middle of Berlin. No one knows exactly how they did it; all we know for sure is that it involved Vietnamese Intelligence crossing the border from the Czech Republic, a white van, and balls that wouldn't fit in the Reichstag. It might have also involved a mole in Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
For Germany, the whole thing was a little too reminiscent of the Soviet abductions of German citizens before the fall of the Berlin Wall. So they expelled Vietnamese diplomats and extradited a possible suspect from the Czech Republic, a dude only known as N.H. Long. Sources have yet to confirm whether he's a Metal Gear Solid character, but search your heart, and you'll find the truth.
Trinh Xuan Thanh
... and here ...
... makes a pretty strong argument.
Fun fact: Most of the people who died in the Second World War did so on the Eastern Front. The Russians alone lost more than 24 million soldiers and civilians. One of the reasons they were able to eventually emerge victorious was their revolutionary T-34 tank. It was fast, maneuverable, custom-built to plow through mud (of which Russians had no deficit), and slightly less of a steel coffin than other tanks of the time. The Soviets rode it and waves of dead all the way to Berlin.
When the Soviets took the city, they happened upon what was left of Berlin's Central Park and thought, "Man, you know what would go great here? A huge monument to our war dead." So that's exactly what they built, right on top of what was once called Victory Road, because Hitler had planned to celebrate his victory over the Allies there. Apparently, he never got the chance.
The Soviets put up a big statue of a soldier, and to twist the knife a little, flanked him with a pair of T-34s.
Today, the monument has a slightly different tone, because when the Soviets took Berlin, Red Army soldiers raped an estimated two million German women. Some locals call the monument "The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist," and aren't super fond of it, uh ... still existing to this day. Luckily, Russia is currently on excellent terms with the West, so we're sure this will all work out fine.
Kim Jong-un may be a terrible ruler, but much like Dante Hicks, he wasn't even supposed to be there. The role was going to go to his older brother, Kim Jong-nam, but he lacked the "will" to lead (read: desire to mercilessly oppress millions), and liked the freedom (read: gambling and prostitutes) afforded by other countries. He spent loads of government money in Macau, and was once famously detained trying to sneak into Japan with a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
This was seriously embarrassing to Kim Jong-il, who put Kim Jong-un in line for the throne instead. After that, Kim Jong-nam lived in limbo. He never officially defected, but he did spend his days doing what defectors do: avoiding assassination attempts.
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Nam was nothing but another slightly befuddled dude going to the self-service kiosk. Out of nowhere, a woman approached him and started rubbing lotion on his face. Then another came out of the crowd and did the same thing (bizarrely, this one had the word "LOL" on her shirt). Both of them then walked away hollering "Sorry!" -- as if rubbing lotion on a stranger's face is the Malaysian equivalent of farting on the subway.
If that sounds like a weird reality show that forgot the punchline, that's what the women themselves claimed they believed. They said that smearing people with moisturizer was pitched to them as a "prank" for a hidden camera show, for which they would get $90 and a shot at stardom. In normal reality TV, this would be the part where somebody finds a wife, eats a bug, and loses their dignity, and then everyone would move on with their lives.
But Kim Jong-nam was dead within 15 minutes. Malaysian authorities didn't know who he was at first, but they figured it out when they searched his body and found several antidotes and $120,000 in cash. That left two options: disgraced son of a dictator, or super-spy. For some reason, they assumed the former.
Kim fell victim to the world's deadliest chemical weapon, VX (or Venomous Agent X, because at heart, all scientists are still 13-year-olds who want to work for Cobra). That prompted Malaysia to officially ask North Korea, "Hey, what the fuck, you guys?" North Korea responded with, "We have no idea what you're talking about. He obviously died of a heart attack, so no need to do an autopsy. Also, we need the body. Now." When Malaysian authorities didn't comply, there was an attempt to break into the morgue. Malaysia then broke off relations and expelled the North Korean ambassador. North Korea responded by expelling Malaysia's ambassador ... and holding nine Malaysian citizens hostage. Malaysia, knowing they couldn't out-crazy North Korea, agreed to exchange Kim Jong-nam's body and three suspects for their citizens.
Never try to out-crazy North Korea.
Korea and Japan have been at odds ever since Japan uh ... occupied Korea for 35 years of cultural repression, murder, and sex slavery. Yeah, that'll put you "at odds" for a bit. So it's understandable that Koreans will take about any opportunity to stick it to Japan. And that brings us to the Dokdo Islands.
The Dokdo are a group of tiny rocks in the sea between Korea and Japan. They don't have any resources or strategic significance. South Korea has occupied them since 1954, but Japan also claims sovereignty, and they've been disputed territory for as long as anyone can remember. Many other countries would sit down, acknowledge how unimportant the islands are, and hash out a deal, but South Korea and Japan still don't get along, for some weird reason which likely rhymes with "warm mimes."
In 2006, South Korea's then-president Roh Moo-hyun sent gunboats to stop Japanese coast guard vessels from mapping the surrounding seabed. Washington, in one of its more lucid moments, worried that the Koreans "might do something crazy," and said that "everyone needs to back off," so things returned to a simmer for a time.
Then celebrities started getting involved, and that always helps. In 2012, a South Korean soccer player was denied his Olympic medal because during the award ceremony for beating Japan in the championship, he ripped off his shirt like he'd contracted a terminal case of Hulkamania and held up a sign which read "Dokdo is our Territory." This was mere hours after President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the islands and declared "Dokdo is truly our territory, and it's worth defending with our lives." This all infuriated the Japanese, who recalled their ambassador in protest, and presumably took their ball and went home.
Korean rock star Kim Jang-hoon has also made Dokdo a personal cause. Right after President Lee's visit, he announced a relay of more than 200 swimmers which would cover over a hundred miles to the islands. And it so happened that the last swimmer would arrive there on the anniversary of Korea's 1945 liberation from Japan. Before the swim, he said, "Dokdo belongs to the Republic of Korea, so we will shout, 'Go for it with the Republic of Korea.'"
Japan offered (or threatened, depending on who you ask) to take the whole thing to the International Court of Justice, which Korea rejected three times, and then responded to with a massive boycott of Japanese goods. Other nations, take note: Korea is not "totally chill" about horrific war crimes, and will not "namaste past it, bro."
According to international law, the ocean up to 200 miles from a country's shoreline is its "Exclusive Economic Zone," which provides sovereignty and full control of any resources. Most of the South China Sea is well outside the reach of China's EEZ, but what if you raised arbitrary islands like a mad drunken god? And what if you then armed those faux islands with a bunch of missiles and warplanes? Surely that's a loophole, right?
China thought so. That's why they built 3,200 acres of land in the South China Sea, summoning up five square miles of dirt that didn't exist before. They also built (what at least looks like) military airstrips, surface-to-air missile batteries, and other tools of mayhem. Oh, and two of the islands are named "Mischief" and "Fiery Cross," which seems a tad ominous.
According to China, they're simply "carrying out normal construction activities in [our] own territory" -- construction that's necessary to maintain "freedom of navigation." In a staggering coincidence, that land is smack in the middle of seas that also have territorial claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Weird, huh?
Steven Assarian is a librarian. He writes stuff here.
Islands are also neat things you can put in your kitchen to mess with your roommates.
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