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.
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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid