Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Feb. 24 the relocation of the US airbase at Futenma to Henoko, elsewhere on the island of Okinawa, would continue despite a referendum vote opposing the move. Okinawa prefecture held a referendum on whether the US military base should relocate from Ginowan municipality to Henoko. After the final count, approximately 70% of voters opposed the move. The relocation has been 20 years in preparation, and has continued to face opposition over claims of noise from military activity, harm to the surrounding coral reefs, and outrag over a 1995 incident of rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by US servicemen.
With North Korea's apparent testing of its first (or perhaps second) hydrogen bomb yesterday, the White House is again warning of a "massive military response." Last week, North Korea for the first time fired a missile over Japanese land territory, specifically the northern island of Hokkaido, and last month for the first time tested an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile. (NYT, NYT, AP) Pyongyang's threat to launch missiles toward Guam put the unincorporated US island territory briefly in the news—although the actual threat was to fire into waters some 40 kilometers off Guam. (AP) Pyongyang has threatened to strike Guam before, but now looks as if it may be developing the capability to make good on its threat. Amid all the hype, just a few stories have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting to all this. And growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing they are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.
Okinawa's Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval issued by his predecessor for a landfill to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new site at the island's Cape Henoko. Sit-in protestors in front of Camp Schwab Marine Base at Henoko rejoiced as the announcement came over a live radio broadcast. Some took over the roadway to perform the island's traditional Kachashi dance in jubilation. Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, voiced defiance of anticipated efforts by Japan's central government to override the decision: "We will not lose to the governments of Japan and the United States. With the governor, we will continue to struggle to stop construction of the new US base." In March, Gov. Onaga had issued a stop-work order on the relocation, which the central government overruled. Protesters are demanding that the US Marines leave Okinawa entirely. (Kyodo, Oct. 14; BBC News, Ryukyu Shimpo, Oct. 13)
With all eyes on the crisis between North and South Korea, the international media have largely overlooked growing tensions between both Koreas and Japan. On April 5, Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest against Japan's renewed territorial claim to the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan. The protest came after Tokyo issued a formal claim over the Seoul-controlled easternmost islets through approval of a diplomatic report that stated: "Takeshima is clearly Japanese territory in light of historical facts and under an international law." In a separate protest days earlier, Seoul lodged a complaint over new textbooks approved in Japan that emphasize Tokyo's claim to the islets while downplaying Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. (Dong-a Ilbo, April 6; Xinhua, April 5; AsiaOne, March 27)
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)
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)
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