UN meeting on peace in Asia descends into bitter row

Tensions between China, Japan, North and South Korea escalate as distrust deepens

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has been accused by Chinese UN ambassador Liu Jieyi of ‘closing the door to dialogue with China’. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has been accused by Chinese UN ambassador Liu Jieyi of ‘closing the door to dialogue with China’. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters


Tensions gripping east Asia have flared into a bitter war of words at a United Nations Security Council debate on war and peace.

The row started when Chinese UN 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 Second World War criminals are buried.

The envoys of North and South Korea also condemned the visit, then Japan rebuked its neighbours for raising their grievances in an open forum with envoys of more than 50 countries present.

The bitter exchanges played out for hours as each of the four countries took the floor twice to have their say, in 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 US 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 criticised both countries — Mr Abe for his visit to the shrine and China for its declaration of an air defence 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 north-east Asia,” said South Korean ambassador Oh Joon.

Mr Oh said “Japan should refrain from provoking its neighbours with its denial of history” and 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 defence, saying Japan has atoned for its past and that Mr Abe “would welcome direct dialogue” with the leaders of China and South Korea.

He said the purpose of Mr 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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