Friday, August 06, 2004

Tensions around disputed islands

I reported the dispute over a small pair of islands called Tokto/Dokdo/Takeshima in a previous post.
Now, the Korea Herald reports that 45 people have swum from an undisputedly Korean island to Tokto, to raise awareness about the place and the fact that Japan lays claim to it.

45 People Swim From Ullungdo to Tokto

In an effort to raise interest in the protection of the Tokto islets, 45 people swam the 92-kilometer sea route from Ullungdo to Tokto Friday.

The swimmers set off from Ullung-kun, North Kyongsang Province on Thursday morning and successfully reached Tokto at 9 a.m. Friday in about 28 hours.

The participants swam the first 500-meter section and the last 1-kilometer section together before reaching the islets.

Other participants conducted a relay race in which each person swam two 1.5- to 3-kilometer legs.

The group took pictures with the Tokto Coast Guards when they arrived on the island, declaring the resolution under the national flag of Korea and urging Japan to stop making territorial claims over Tokto.

Chung Kwang-tae, 49, singer of the famous song, 'Tokto Is Our Land,' took part in the event as one of the organizing staff. Five ships and 19 staff members, including medical personnel, also accompanied the swimmers.

This is a lot less objectionable than a right-wing member of the Japanese Diet (Parliament) or a bunch of Japanese neo-fascists trying to set up camp on one of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands (claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan and controlled by Japan). I guess the reason is that it was Japan that colonised Korea, large parts of China and other bits of Asia, not Korea that oppressed Japan. But I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of 'good nationalism'.

I don't suppose, anyway, that people in most Asian counties will be very impressed by the Japanese government taking over a lighthouse built by Japanese nationalists on disputed Diao Yu/Uotsuri island, as reported last Thursday on the Japan Today site.This is presumably what the 'political activists'--as the article politely calls them--wanted all along. Now the Japanese government has an official presence on the island and tensions are increased, little by little.

Gov't set to own lighthouse on Senkaku Islands

NAHA, -- The government is set to assume control of a lighthouse constructed and managed by Japanese political activists on one of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, sources close to the case said Wednesday.

The lighthouse was constructed on Uotsuri Island in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, and is now nominally owned by a fisherman in the city. (Kyodo News)

There's an article on the website of the Heritage Foundation, an evil right-wing thinktank in the US, noting recent Chinese probing of the sea around southern Japan. There are some comments on the status of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands that I wouldn't trust for a minute, and a plea for a more belligerent posture from the States. It's interesting to know what this influential part of the US policy elite thinks about this--and frightening to know that it does think about it. And when you find out what they think, that's the worst...

It's important to realise that some people from the countries involved care about these islands or will use them to try to force the hand of their government, even to the point of provoking armed conflict and risking lives. In 1996 David Chan, a man from Hong Kong, died protesting at Diao Yu/Uotsuri, as the Okinawa Times reported at the time:
A Hong Kong ship protesting the Japanese territorial claim to Uotsuri, one of the group of small islands in the East China Sea referred to by Japan as the Senkakus, was blocked by the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency last Thursday morning. Four of the people on board the Hong Kong vessel jumped into the sea to demonstrate their protest, but unfortunately one of them died. Taiwanese fishing boats were also prevented from trying to enter the area.

Protests in both Hong Kong and Taiwan have been escalating after a Japanese rightist group erected a lighthouse on Uotsuri Island, part of the disputed area between Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

The Hong Kong group chartered a cargo ship with seventy-eight people aboard, and departed last Sunday to land on the island. As the ship reached the area in contention, two unsuccessful attempts were made to cross the blockade of ten Japanese Maritime Safety Agency ships. Four of the protesters suddenly jumped into the sea and were pulled out. However, Mr. David Chan, 47, leader of the group, did not survive the plunge. A ship's captain had called an SOS, and a Maritime Safety Agency helicopter had taken Chan to a hospital on Ishigaki Island.

The territorial dispute was intensified by the construction of the lighthouse. Both China and Taiwan have reacted by each constructing their own lighthouse on the island.

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