After top aides to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and more than 150 Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, China sent its largest maritime patrol fleet to date into Japan’s territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands, sparking a shouting match between the two countries. Eight Chinese vessels approached the islands, where they bumped into a flotilla of ships with dozens of Japanese activists aboard. The ensuing diplomatic tussle was the nastiest so far in this dangerous dispute.
“I have given instructions to take resolute measures against attempts to enter our territorial waters and make a landing…. If they do land, then of course we will forcibly expel them,” Abe told a parliamentary committee today. “China’s continued violation of our territorial waters is regrettable and unacceptable,” said the chief government spokesman. The two governments angrily summoned ambassadors to demand the other side remove its vessels from the area.
Annual visits by Japanese government officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese soldiers and civilians killed in recent wars, including some accused of war crimes, have long angered China and South Korea. After the ceremony this past weekend China announced that it would skip a trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea planned for May, and the Chinese foreign ministry said Japan’s actions “merit high alert and vigilance by its Asian neighbors and the international community.” Not to be outdone, South Korea canceled a planned visit by its Foreign Minister to Tokyo.
This incident suggests China and South Korea aren’t even ready to forgive and forget 70-year-old Japanese wartime atrocities, much less resolve present-day territorial disputes.
With every maritime standoff, with each airspace incursion, the possibility of an armed confrontation grows.
[Chinese destroyer image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]