Following disturbing findings of thyroid growths in children of Fukushima prefecture, Japan's Environment Ministry this week began thyroid gland tests on children in Nagasaki prefecture, across the central island of Honshu to the south. Those children will serve as a control group for kids undergoing similar tests in Fukushima prefecture. Fukushima's prefectural government one year ago launched what it intends to be a lifelong thyroid gland test program for 360,000 children who were aged 18 or under when the disaster began in March 2011. The Fukushima screening have been conducted on 115,000 children—about one third of the total number of children that will require testing. In July, it was revelaed that over 35% of the 38,114 then screened were found to have abnormal thyroid growths.
It was the South Korean government that attempted on Oct. 22 to halt the planned balloon-drop of some 200,000 anti-North Korea pamphlets across the border into the DPRK by activists (similar to the parachute-drop of teddy bears into Belarus earlier this year). North Korea had threatened military action if the South Korean activists carried out their plan. In a post to its official Korean Central News Agency site, North Korean authorities stated that the plan "was directly invented by the group of traitors and is being engineered by the [S]outh Korean military," pledging that if any leaflets were detected on the north side of the border to respond with a "merciless military strike." So South Korean police closed roads and evacuated residents from the border zone—but activists nonetheless were successful in releasing the balloons, and no military response from the North has been initiated (yet).
Well, it finally came to an actual clash—albeit, thank goodness, with water cannon, not actual munitions—over the contested East China Sea islands, and it was not China but Taiwan that provoked the escalation. On Sept. 25, some 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels accompanied by 12 patrol boats dispatched by Taipei entered waters off the islets that the Chinese call Diaoyu, the Japanese call Senkaku, and the Taiwanese call Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai. When a Japanese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon to disperse the fishing boats, a Taiwanese patrol ship fired its own water cannon at the Japanese ship. The Taiwanese ships were apparently given a warning to clear off but refused, asserting that they had the right to be in their own territorial waters. Many of the Taiwanese ships were flying banners declaiming their national right to the islands. The Taiwanese fleet, which approached the islands at around 8 AM, departed by midday, according to Japanese authorities. (Japan Times, Sept. 26; The Telegraph, Sept. 25)
Japan's cabinet on Sept. 19 failed to approve recommendations of a special government-appointed panel to phase out nuclear power by 2040, in a move openly portrayed in the country's media as a capitulation to pro-nuclear businesses interests. The panel had called for a 40-year limit on the lifespan of nuclear power plants, no new plant construction, and no expansion of existing nuclear power facilities. The cabinet decision came on the same day that Japan launched a new body to oversee the industry, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which replaces the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. But critics say the new agency lacks any greater powers than the old one, and protest that its head, Shunichi Tanaka, who oversaw decontamination efforts at Fukushima, is a nuclear industry insider.
It was pretty surreal to hear Leon Panetta warning of an actual war between China and Japan, arriving in Tokyo just as the two Asian powers are facing off over contested islands in the East China Sea. What made it so incongruous is that despite the obvious lingering enmities from World War II (which for China really started in 1937, or maybe even 1931), in the current world conflict that we call World War 4, warfare is explicitly portrayed even by Pentagon planners as an instrument of globalization—bringing the light of "free markets" and "integration" to benighted regions of the globe that continue to resist their lures. Warfare is now "asymmetrical," posing a single superpower and its allies against "terrorists" and insurgents, or at the very most against "rogue states." The old paradigm of war between rival capitalist powers has seemed pretty irrelevant for the past generation. In the Cold War with the Russians, the superpowers manipulated proxy forces while the US aimed for strategic encirclement of the rival power. In the New Cold War with China that is now emerging, the US again seeks strategic encirclement, and while there aren't any proxy wars being waged (no contemporary equivalent of Vietnam or Angola or Nicaragua), Japanese and South Koreans should beware of their governments being entangled in Washington's containment strategy—as Panetta's own comments acknowledge, games of brinkmanship can get out of control. And, as we noted, even as he made his warning, he was in Japan to inaugurate a new anti-missile radar system, ostensibly designed to defend against North Korea, but certain to be perceived in Beijing as a part of the encirclement strategy...
The prospect of an actual shooting war between China and Japan got a little realer this week as both sides raised the stakes in the showdown over the barren East China Sea chain known as the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese and as the Senkaku Islands to the Japanese. Over the weekend, angry anti-Japan protests spread to 85 cities across China. In Beijing, protesters besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of protesters occupying a street in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Protesters broke into a Panasonic plant and several other Japanese-run factories as well as a Toyota dealership in Qingdao, Shandong province, ransacking and torching. In Shanghai, hundreds of military police were brought in to break up protesters outside the Japanese consulate, who chanted: ''Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!'' (China Digital Times, SMH, Kyodo, Sept. 17)
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Aug. 24 signed a resolution describing South Korea's control of islands in the Sea of Japan as an "illegal occupation." The resolution also calls for South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to apologize and renounce comments he made during an Aug. 15 surprise visit to the disputed island territory. These comments included a request for Japan's Emperor Akihito to apologize for the nation's occupation of the Korean penninsula during World War II. The disputed islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are believed to contain valuable natural gas deposits. Noda has threatened to refuse to meet with Myung-Bak at the of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok set for September.
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