News / Asia

WWII Anniversary Stokes Asian Regional Tensions

South Korean Presidetn Lee Myung-bak delivers a speech during a ceremony to celebrate Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule, Aug. 15, 2012.
South Korean Presidetn Lee Myung-bak delivers a speech during a ceremony to celebrate Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule, Aug. 15, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
SEOUL – Government officials in Tokyo and Seoul marking the anniversary of the end of war in the Pacific are aggravating lingering grievances stemming from their colonial past.

A children's choir sang as attendees waved South Korean flags to mark the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the peninsula from decades of Japanese colonial rule.

Old wounds

At the ceremony, President Lee Myung-bak called on Japan to help heal old wounds. He specifically mentioned festering grievances about the Japanese military's wartime prostitution of Korean women, something Lee termed a violation of "universal human rights and historic justice."

President Lee says while Japan is a close neighbor, a friend sharing basic values and an important trading partner, the chain links tangling their mutual history is affecting regional and bilateral ties. He requests Tokyo resolve the so-called "comfort women" issue.

Lee's government was quick to express regret over visits by two Japanese cabinet members to a Tokyo shrine viewed in Japan's former colonies as a symbol of its wartime aggression.

Explanations

Jin Matsubara, who holds several Cabinet portfolios including National Public Safety Commission chairman, says he visited the war shrine in a personal capacity.

Facts about Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine

  • Shinto shrine built in 1869 to enshrine the souls of around 2.5 million war dead
  • Commemorates 14 men convicted of war crimes after Japan's World War II surrender
  • Seen by many Asians as symbol of Japan's brutal imperialistic era
  • Has become a rallying point for some conservative Japanese lawmakers

The cabinet minister says he went to Yasukuni - where the souls of those enshrined include convicted top class war criminals - to "remember ancestors who established the foundation of Japan's present-day prosperity."

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda asked ministers to refrain from going to the shrine. Such visits always cause diplomatic fallout. This marks the first time sitting members of a Democratic Party of Japan cabinet have prayed at Yasukuni.

Island visit

Click to EnlargeClick to Enlarge
x
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge
The move by the DPJ politicians comes after the South Korean president raised tensions when he made an unprecedented visit last week to a tiny island, Liancourt Rocks, controlled for decades by his country, but also claimed by Japan. In response to Lee's brief trip, Tokyo recalled its ambassador from Seoul.

On Wednesday, Japan lodged a diplomat protest against President Lee for saying any visit to South Korea by Emperor Akihito must be preceded by a sincere apology from the monarch for Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Japanese war victims

Japan's Emperor Akihito, left, escorts Empress Michiko after offering prayers for the war dead during a memorial service at Budokan Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo, Aug. 15, 2012.Japan's Emperor Akihito, left, escorts Empress Michiko after offering prayers for the war dead during a memorial service at Budokan Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo, Aug. 15, 2012.
x
Japan's Emperor Akihito, left, escorts Empress Michiko after offering prayers for the war dead during a memorial service at Budokan Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo, Aug. 15, 2012.
Japan's Emperor Akihito, left, escorts Empress Michiko after offering prayers for the war dead during a memorial service at Budokan Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo, Aug. 15, 2012.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, at precisely noon in Tokyo, bowed their heads at a national ceremony to remember the more than two million Japanese military and civilian deaths during the five-year Pacific War.

Reflecting on history, the son of the monarch in whose name Japan waged the war says he sincerely wishes "the tragedy of war will not be repeated."

Emperor Akihito said that along with all Japanese, he wants to pay a heartfelt tribute to those who lost their lives on the battlefield and due to the ravages of war.

Prime Minister Noda, also at the event, noted Japan "caused considerable damage and pain to people in many countries, particularly in Asia."

Noda added that Japan's peace and prosperity are the result of those who reluctantly made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.

Asked about the unresolved historical disputes between Seoul and Tokyo, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United Sates does not take a position and encourages its two allies "to work this out together."

December meeting

The South Korean president and the Japanese prime minister are scheduled to meet in December, when Lee will have just two months remaining in office.

Lee, with a low popularity rating at home, is ineligible to run for re-election under South Korea's current system limiting presidents to a single five-year term.

His provocative island visit and recent statements have also prompted some domestic criticism, including those who contend the lame duck president is creating a diplomatic mess his successor will be forced to clean up.

China

Meanwhile, Japan has filed a complaint with China after a group of activists from Hong Kong landed Wednesday on Uotsurijima, one of the small islands held by Tokyo and claimed by Beijing.

Japanese media report that the coast guard is taking 14 people, including one reporter, to a port in Okinawa after their arrests for violating the immigration control law.

The disputed island group, which is uninhabited, is known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

Japan also has an unresolved territorial dispute with Russia going back to August 1945, when Red Army troops seized islands off Hokkaido in the closing days of WWII.

The Interfax news agency reports Russia's Pacific Fleet has announced two of its warships will visit the disputed territory beginning August 25 to honor those who died battling the Imperial Japan Army.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Frank from: USA
August 15, 2012 4:40 PM
What can anyone say about anything when they keep going back to that shrine for murderers? Just how can you have any discussion with that going on and think anything positive can come out of it? That craziness needs to stop.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid