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East Asia tensions on display at Security Council

January 29, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The tensions gripping East Asia flared Wednesday at a U.N. Security Council debate on war and peace.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “closed the door to dialogue with China” with his recent visit to a shrine where convicted World War II criminals are buried. The envoys of North and South Korea also lambasted the visit. Japan rebuked its neighbors for raising their grievances in an open forum with envoys of more than 50 countries present.

The bitter exchanges played out over hours as each of the four countries took the floor twice to have their say. It was a vivid example of the theme of the Security Council debate: How to build lasting peace. 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.”

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 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.” 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.”

Japanese envoy Kazuyoshi Umemoto said his country “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 atoned for its past and that Abe “would welcome direct dialogue” with the leaders of China and South Korea. He said the purpose of Abe’s shrine visit was to “renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war” — a statement that another South Korean envoy called “preposterous.”

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