NEW YORK – The tensions gripping East Asia flared Wednesday at a U.N. Security Council debate on war and peace.
China, along with North and South Korea, blamed Japan for the deepening animosity and lambasted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, but more contentiously, also convicted Class-A war criminals. Japan insisted it has atoned for its past and rebuked its neighbors for raising their grievances in an open forum with envoys of more than 50 countries present.
The bitter exchanges offered a vivid example of the theme of the Security Council debate: how to build lasting peace after conflict ends. An emerging consensus among diplomats was the need to reconcile conflicting historical narratives, which Jordan’s ambassador said “can often lie in wait, like dry gunpowder, for a long time, passed down in many communities from parents to children, ready only for a charismatic opportunist who would stir them abruptly, and menacingly, to violent effect.”
East Asia’s escalating disputes — both historical and current — have alarmed the world, with the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific warning last week that tensions are likely to grow unless China and Japan talk to each other. The United States has criticized both countries: Abe for his visit to the shrine; China for its declaration of an air defense identification zone over a disputed area of the East China Sea, including remote islands administered by Japan.
“Tensions are escalating more than ever before due to the distrust among states in Northeast Asia,” said South Korean Ambassador Oh-joon.
Oh said, “Japan should refrain from provoking its neighbors with its denial of history.”
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said Japan is “promoting an erroneous perspective of history” and trying “to reverse the verdict of the war.” North Korea’s envoy, Ri Tong Il, said Japanese officials “are driving their knives into the wounded hearts of the victims” and “instigating the Japanese people into retrieving their militaristic ambitions.”
Envoy Kazuyoshi Umemoto said Japan “does not believe” that raising such issues during a diplomatic forum is “helpful in lowering tensions and enhancing the stability in the region.” He nevertheless offered a defense, saying Japan has repeatedly apologized for its wartime actions and the purpose of Abe’s shrine visit was to “renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war.”