Asian Island Dispute Flares on WWII Anniversary


TOKYO -- Regional tensions flared Wednesday on the emotional anniversary of Japan's WWII surrender as activists from China and South Korea used the occasion to press their country's claims to disputed sea territory, prompting at least five arrests by Japanese police.

A group of 14 people traveled by boat from Hong Kong to a set of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, and Japanese police said they arrested five of them who swam ashore in the East China Sea chain, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

"We want the world to know that this is -- way back in history -- the territory of China, and as Chinese people we can go there fishing, touring at our own right," David Ko, a spokesman for the activists, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong. "The Japanese have no right to stop us."

China urged Japan to refrain from taking any action that could endanger Chinese citizens or their property, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qing Gang said in a press statement.

Also Wednesday, a group of South Koreans reached another set of disputed islands controlled by South Korea in a demonstration aimed at belittling Japan's claims to that territory.

The anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945 is emotional in Asia because it revives long-running territorial disputes as well as memories of Japan's brutal colonial occupation of many neighbors that ended only at the close of the war. While Japan routinely apologizes for its wartime actions, its politicians often anger neighboring countries by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japan's war dead, including top war criminals.

Dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine Wednesday, including two Cabinet ministers.

At a solemn ceremony elsewhere in Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda apologized to victims of Japanese atrocities, mourned the dead and renewed Japan's pledge to renounce war.

"We have caused tremendous damage and pain to many countries, particularly the Asian people, during the war. We deeply regret that and sincerely mourn for those who were sacrificed and their relatives," Noda said. "We will not repeat the same mistake."

Emperor Akihito, whose father made the unprecedented 1945 national radio address announcing that the war could not be won, also offered prayers for the dead.

Simmering tensions between Japan and its neighbors have threatened to boil over in recent weeks.

Tokyo was angered by a recent visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to contested islands in the Sea of Japan, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. The visit was seen by many as an attempt by Lee to play up anti-Japan sentiment ahead of elections later this year.

A group of South Korean protesters, swimming across the sea in a relay, paid another visit to the island on Wednesday.

In a ceremony Wednesday celebrating Japan's defeat, Lee condemned Japan for forcing thousands of Korean women into sexual slavery to Japanese soldiers during the war.

Historians say up to 200,000 "comfort women," many of them also from China and the Philippines, were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at military brothels during the war. Japan has apologized and initiated a private fund as a way to pay the women without providing official compensation, but many of the women rejected the offer, demanding a formal apology and state compensation.

-- Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; Didi Tang in Beijing; Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan; and Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report

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