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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess 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.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs