Every year on August 15, the date of Japan’s surrender in World War II, Japanese officials visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo to honor the country’s war dead. The shrine honors a number of convicted war criminals, and the visits anger Asian countries that greatly suffered under Japanese rule. This year’s visit comes with tensions running especially high after the Japanese coast guard arrested 15 Chinese activists on the Senkaku Islands. These islands (which are also claimed by Taiwan) have symbolic value and are located near a potentially gas-rich area. The Associated Press has more:
“We want the world to know that this is — way back in history — the territory of China, and as Chinese people we can go there fishing, touring at our own right,” David Ko, a spokesman for the activists, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong. “The Japanese have no right to stop us.”Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan historically and by international law owns the islands and there is no room for its sovereignty to be questioned. He called the trespassing “extremely regrettable.”
Tokyo’s governor, the 79-year-old outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara, has been trying to buy four of the five islands from the Japanese businessman who currently claims ownership. He has already successfully raised $17 million dollars, prompting the Japanese government to promise to buy the islands. Foreign Policy magazine, in a piece on Ishihara, says:
Ishihara warned in May that “Japan could become the sixth star on China’s national flag” if it appeases Beijing. In his public speeches, he refers to the People’s Republic as “Shina,” a derogatory term associated with Japan’s 1937-1945 occupation.
China might not let this Japanese assertiveness slide.Aside from the volatile Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, Japan is also in a row with South Korea over the Korean-controlled Liancourt Rocks, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea. A group of South Korean activists (led by a Korean rock star) swam 140 miles toward the disputed island to bolster their country’s territorial claim. Meanwhile, South Korea’s President Lee has just become the first Korean president to visit the islands in recent memory.At the same time, the Associated Press reports that president Lee demanded that Emperor Akihito apologize to Koreans for the war if he ever wants to visit South Korea, prompting Japan to recall its ambassador.The islands in the China sea are shaping up to be the epicenter of a host of regional struggles that could reshape the region if they ever flare into open conflict. These disputes should be watched with a careful eye.Here’s a reminder of how the region is shaping up (click to view detail):