The Asia-Pacific’s most dangerous crisis may be going overlooked due to North Korean threats. Despite the Obama administration’s ‘pivot’ to the region, Asian allies worry that the United States will not continue to be a steadfast partner.
North Korean bombast has been using up all of the oxygen in the Asia-Pacific, but what may be the region’s most dangerous crisis is raging on a few hundred miles to the south. With front pages focused on Kim Jong-un’s threats and the United States’ shows of force, the ongoing Sino-Japanese impasse has gone overlooked in recent weeks. Even so, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the latter conflict’s long-term implications for peace in Asia.
As tensions in the East China Sea have heated up over the past year, analysts, journalists, and businessmen have been asking two questions: Could Japan and China really come to blows over the Senkaku (or, in Chinese, “Diaoyu”) Islands? Would the United States really allow itself to be drawn into a conflict over a handful of obscure, uninhabited rocks? These questions are based on an errant assumption that the roiling conflict is, at heart, about ownership of the Senkakus. It is not.
China’s Goal: Securing CCP Leadership at Home and Abroad
For Beijing, the conflict with Japan over the Senkakus serves two goals that extend far beyond the islands themselves. The Chinese Communist Party’s primary objective is to stay in power. Having long ago jettisoned the ideological foundations of its regime, the CCP relies on delivering economic growth and on its claim to a nationalist mantle to legitimize its continuing rule. Stoking tensions with wartime foe Japan has long been a part of Beijing’s playbook. The playbook also includes a propaganda effort aimed at sustaining anti-Japan grievances, an effort that continues nearly 70 years after the conclusion of World War II and Tokyo’s adoption of a pacifist constitution, and more than 30 years after Japan began providing economic aid to China (Tokyo has long been China’s biggest donor).
Tensions escalated once again between Japan and its neighbors on Tuesday as China strongly protested against “provocation” by Japanese ships in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands, calling the moves “illegal” and “troublemaking”.
A group of 168 Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the same day, despite repeated objections from Beijing and Seoul. The visit worsened Japan’s diplomatic deadlock in the region.A group of 168 Japanese lawmakers leave after visiting the Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday, which honors Japan’s convicted war criminals during World War II. It also marked the first time that the number of lawmakers visiting the shrine has exceeded 100 since October 2005. [Photo/Xinhua]
According to a statement issued by China’s State Oceanic Administration, a fleet of Chinese marine surveillance ships on regular patrol duty found several Japanese ships in waters around the Diaoyu Islands on Tuesday.
“Organized in four formations, the eight Chinese ships monitored the Japanese ships … and by 10 am, the Japanese vessels had left the Diaoyu waters under China’s law enforcement pressure,” the statement said.
Ten boats carrying about 80 Japanese activists entered the waters off the Diaoyu Islands, claiming to be conducting fishery studies, Japanese media reported.
China strongly protested and has lodged solemn representations to Japan regarding Japanese “right-wingers’ illegal entry” into the waters, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said China should fight back against any challenges from Japanese right-wingers in order to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Eight Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japanese territorial waters Tuesday around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.
China’s State Oceanic Administration said the vessels were there to monitor the activity of a flotilla of boats reportedly carrying members of a Japanese nationalist group. China regards the area as its territorial waters.
This is the most Chinese ships to enter Japanese waters near the Senkakus since the central government purchased three of them from their Saitama owner last September and effectively nationalized the chain, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
The Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Chinese ambassador and lodged a protest over the maritime activity.
“It is extremely regrettable and unacceptable that Chinese state ships continue to engage in intrusion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. “We are protesting strictly through our diplomatic channels.”
The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant halted an emergency operation Tuesday to pump thousands of gallons of radioactive water from a leaking underground storage pool after workers discovered that a similar pool, to which the water was being transferred, was also leaking.
At least three of seven underground chambers at the site are now seeping radioactive water, leaving the Tokyo Electric Power Company with few options on where to store the huge amounts of contaminated runoff from the makeshift cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Those systems were put in place after a large earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant’s regular cooling systems two years ago, causing fuel at three of its reactors to melt and prompting 160,000 people to evacuate their homes. Since then, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, has been flooding the damaged reactor cores to cool and stabilize the fuel.
But Tepco has struggled to find space to store the runoff water. It initially released what it said was low-level contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, igniting furious criticism among neighbors and environmental activists. Traces of radioactive cesium were later found in bluefin tuna caught off the California coast.
Radioactive water may have leaked into the ground from a storage tank at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the latest of a series of troubles at the facility.
The fresh leak on Sunday comes a day after Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said up to 120 tonnes of contaminated water may have escaped from another of the seven underground reservoir tanks at the tsunami-damaged plant.
TEPCO said radioactivity was detected in water outside a tank in the latest leak but that the contaminated water was unlikely to flow into the sea.
“We have determined that a minimal amount of water was feared to have leaked from the tank although there was no decline in the level of water inside the tank,” it said in a statement.
The tanks store water used to cool down the reactors after radioactive caesium is removed but other radioactive substances remain.
The series of leakages came after one of the systems keeping spent atomic fuel cool at the plant temporarily failed on Friday, the second outage in a matter of weeks, underlining the precarious fix at the plant.
Nuclear fuel, even after use, has to be kept cool to prevent it from overheating and beginning a self-sustaining atomic reaction that could lead to meltdown.
North Korea has placed two of its intermediate range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them on the east coast of the country in a move that could threaten Japan or U.S. Pacific bases, South Korean media reported on Friday.
The report could not be confirmed. But any such movement may be intended to show that the North, angry about joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and the imposition of UN sanctions, is prepared to demonstrate its ability to mount an attack.
Japanese scientists have found vast reserves of rare earth metals on the Pacific seabed that can be mined cheaply, a discovery that may break the Chinese monopoly on a crucial raw material needed in hi-tech industries and advanced weapons systems.
“We have found deposits that are just two to four metres from the seabed surface at higher concentrations than anybody ever thought existed, and it won’t cost much at all to extract,” said professor Yasuhiro Kato from Tokyo University, the leader of the team.
While America, Australia, and other countries have begun to crank up production of the seventeen rare earth elements, they have yet to find viable amounts of the heavier metals such as dysprosium, terbium, europium, and ytterbium that are most important.
China has a near total monopoly in the heavier end of the spectrum, though it is also the dominant supplier of the whole rare earth complex after driving rivals out of business in the 1990s. It still accounts for 97pc of global supply.
At ground zero in Hiroshima the inscription for victims of the world’s first Atomic bomb is a pledge. We will never again repeat the evil of war.
The Japanese original is vague on who “we” is, but the English translation tactfully refers to mankind as a whole.
Families come from all over Japan in a pilgrimage to visit the peace shrine. They look through the Cenotaph to the “A-Dome”, the old Industrial Promotion Hall. This six-story building that was directly below the blast, 600 metres above, and for that reason survived as a gaunt half-wrecked structure when almost everything else was flattened instantly for a radius of two kilometres.
They walk through the museum in total silence learning the details of what happened on August 1945, and the gruesome aftermath. The learn about the 2000 degree heat shock that lasted three seconds and incinerated anybody in the epicentre instantly, but left those in the suburbs to die more slowly with burnt skin hanging from their bodies.
They read the day-by-day diaries of the survivors, and the second shock of radiation a week or so later as they came out in a rash of purple spots, and started to vomit their inner organs. Some 140,000 were dead within five months, mostly civilians, including Korean and Chinese forced labourers.
This is what the Japanese are brought up on, so different from the “Patriotic Education” campaign in China for the last twenty years. Beijing’s policy has whipped up revanchist hatred against the Japanese for the sins of the 1930s and 1940s, no doubt to divert popular wrath away from a Communist Party tarnished by corruption.
In a few days, Japan will mark the 2nd anniversary of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami. The disaster killed nearly 19,000 across Japan, leveling entire coastal villages. Now, nearly all the rubble has been removed, or stacked neatly, but reconstruction on higher ground is lagging, as government red tape has slowed recovery efforts. Locals living in temporary housing are frustrated, and still haunted by the horrific event, some displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Collected below are a series of before-and-after interactive images. Click on each one to see the image fade from before (2011) to after (2013). [18 photo pairs]
United States intelligence agencies recently detected China’s military shifting road-mobile ballistic missiles closer to its southern coast near the disputed Senkaku Islands amid growing tensions between Beijing and Japan over the islands dispute.
U.S. defense officials said the movements are being watched closely as China’s military is also holding large-scale military exercises that some fear could be a trigger for a conflict with Japan that could involve U.S. forces.
The officials did not provide details of the missile movements that were tracked by U.S. aircraft, ship-based, and satellite surveillance systems in the region.
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