East Asia Theater
On Aug. 15—not coincidentally, the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II—a group of Chinese activists who had sailed from Hong Kong landed on Uotsurijima, one of the contested Senkaku Islands, and were promptly arrested by Japanese Coast Guard troops and Okinawa prefectural police. They succeeded in planting a Chinese flag on the island before five were arrested; another two managed to return to their fishing vessel and escaped. Japanese authorities say they will determine whether the detained men, now being held in Okinawa, will be prosecuted or deported back to Hong Kong. This was the first such incident since March 2004. But since 2009, the Hong Kong government has on six occasions stopped protest vessels from going to the contested islands. (Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 16; Xinhua, Japan Times, Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16
China's move to set up a military garrison at Sansha on disputed Yongxing Island (also known as Woody Island) in the Xisha chain (claimed by the Philippines as the Paracels), along with creating a city administration for the island which has heretofore had few permanent inhabitants, is escalating tensions in the South China Sea (or, as Manila has it, the West Philippine Sea)—the key theater in Washington's new cold war with Beijing. On Aug. 4, Beijing summoned a senior US diplomat, the embassy's deputy chief of mission Robert Wang, over State Department criticism of the move. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement the day before that the US is "concerned by the increase in tensions in the West Philippine Sea and [we] are monitoring the situation closely."
Following a wave of protests on Okinawa against the planned deployment of a fleet of MV-22 Osprey aircraft by the US Marine Corps at the island's Futenma Air Station, the US Defense Department and Japan's government announced Aug. 5 that they will delay the deployment pending further tests of the aircraft's safety. The protests had the strong support of Takeshi Onaga, mayor of Naha, Okinawa's capital, and also won the sympathy of Yoshihiko Fukuda, mayor of Iwakuni, the city in southern Honshu's Yamaguchi prefecture where the 12 aircraft were to be assembled. In June, a US Air Force Osprey crashed in Florida, injuring all five airmen aboard, while a crash in Morocco in April left two Marines dead. The Ospreys, a hybrid craft that incorporates elements of both planes and helicopters, were to replace older CH-46 helicopters that are currently deployed at Futenma. (Japan Times, Aug. 5; RTT, July 27; AP, July 23; AP, July 20)
A Japanese expert panel on July 5 issued a report claiming that the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was preventable. In the 641-page document the panel claims that the accident was not caused solely by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but the inability of the government, regulators and the Fukushima Daiichi plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), to act quickly enough to prevent the disaster. Among the criticized was also the then-Prime Minster Naoto Kan who resigned last year after a widespread criticism of his handling of the natural disaster and Fukushima nuclear crisis. The experts claimed that regulators have failed to adopt global safety standards that could have prevented the crisis.
Mass protests greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hong Kong July 1, as he swore in a new chief executive and cabinet for the territory. The official ceremony included a rare show of People's Liberation Army force in Hong Kong, with Hu reviewing passing columns of tanks and rocket launchers. The main demand of the demonstrators (estimated at 400,000) was an investigation into last month's suspicious death of labor activist and 1989 Tiananmen Square protester Li Wangyang. Police used pepper spray on protesters, and a reporter from Hong Kong's Apple Daily was detained after shouting out to Hu at a press conference: "Chairman Hu, have you heard that Hong Kong people hope to redress the June 4 incident?"—a reference to the 1989 protests. Hu's visit coincided with the 15th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong. (Epoch Times, VOA, NYT, July 1)
After six weeks without generating any nuclear power, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda this week succeeded in lobbying local authorities in Fukui prefecture to approve the restart of two reactors at the Ohi nuclear complex, raising the specter of widespread power shortages over the summer. The archipelago nation got more than 30% of its electrical energy from nuclear generation before the Fukushima disaster that gradually shut down the whole nuclear production network was shut for safety checks and upgrades after last year's Fukushima disaster. Activists opposing the return to nuclear power are holding a cross-country "March for Life" from Fukushima to Hiroshima—where they will meet with hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of August 1945. The dwindling hibakusha have re-emerged as a voice warning of the dangers of radiation since the Fukushima disaster. (LAT, 命の行進-2012, June 15)
The Fukushima nuclear disaster has almost completely gone off the world media's radar screen—despite the fact that it isn't over yet. It won brief coverage, at least, when the US National Academy of Sciences revealed last month that radiation from Fukushima had been detected in bluefin tuna caught off the California coast. "The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years," according to AP on May 30, while reassuring: "But even so, that's still far below safe-to-eat limits set by the US and Japanese governments." The perhaps more alarming news a few weeks earlier failed to win as much coverage—technicians have detected a leak the Reactor No. 1 containment vessel, with radioactive water almost certainly escaping into the environment. Reuters less than comfortingly tells us that plant operator TEPCO "may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years."
Tokyo's notoriously nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara is pushing a plan for the metropolitan government to purchase and annex the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—known to Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands, and claimed by China although under Japan's actual control. The uninhabited islands are now privately owned by the Kurihara family, who bought them decades ago from descendants of the previous Japanese owners. With East China Sea hydrocarbon resources at stake, the barren islands have become a flashpoint for Sino-Japanese brinkmanship—most recently in September 2010, when Japan Coast Guard patrol boats confronted a Chinese fishing vessel. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has received more than ¥1 billion in donations from citizens over the past month for its plan to buy the islands. The scheme is an implicit dig at the national government, which Ishihara accuses of not doing enough to defend the islands from China. But his explicit wrath was aimed at Beijing: "An endlessly hegemonic China is now trying to get control of the Pacific, and targeting Senkaku is one of the steps for doing that. We must lock the doors of the Japanese house more carefully when they have clearly shown their intention to intrude and steal things."