By Linda Sieg, Reuters
TOKYO — Bitter memories and current rivalries are straining Japan’s ties with China and South Korea nearly seven decades after Tokyo’s defeat in World War II, raising the risk of ruptures as all three nations head for leadership changes. The three countries are linked by deep economic ties, while Japan and South Korea are close allies of the United States. But as Japan marks the 67th anniversary of the end of the war and its colonization and occupation of its neighbors on Wednesday, a decades-old feud with Seoul over disputed rocky isles turned acrimonious after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the territory last week.
A row with China over islands in the East China Sea has also heated up, while attention is focused on whether members of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet will violate his stance against paying homage at Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Wednesday, seen by many as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. The dynamics of Japan’s relations with its two Asian neighbors differ — Tokyo frets over China’s growing military and economic clout while seeking closer security ties with South Korea. But the twin feuds reflect the degree to which the hand of history lies heavily on the region, becoming entangled with modern political pressures. “Japan has never convinced its neighbors that it has really repented,” said Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis, noting persistent skepticism in Beijing and Seoul over Tokyo’s repeated apologies for excesses during its occupation of large parts of China and colonization of the Korean peninsula. “And neither China nor South Korea want to let the issues go because they are a way to get political advantage.” The dispute with Seoul even intruded into the Olympics when a South Korean soccer player raised a placard saying “Dokdo is our territory” — referring to the islands Japan calls Takeshima — after beating Japan for a bronze. He had to skip the medal ceremony for breaking a rule against politicizing the Games. “All of this goes back to the fact that there is an absence of shared vision about the past in this part of the world,” said Andrew Horvat, director of the Stanford Center in Kyoto. Though economic ties and cultural exchanges between Japan and South Korea have flourished in recent years, Korean resentment over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization still runs deep. Tensions flared last year when Lee urged Tokyo to put priority on giving proper recognition and compensation to Korean women abducted to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers, a matter Japan says was closed under a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties. Patriotic Credentials In 1993 Japan issued a statement in the name of then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono apologizing and two years later set up a private fund to make payments to the women, but South Korea say those moves were not official and therefore not enough.