Eighty-four Japanese lawmakers, including a top adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, yesterday made a visit to a Tokyo shrine vilified by Japan's Asian neighbors as a symbol of the country's past militarism, officials said.
The overwhelming majority were members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including one of his five special advisers and the deputy director of the Defense Agency, according to Hisanori Hiraoka, a secretary to ruling lawmaker Yasu Kano, co-organizer of the visit.
Another 90 lawmakers' assitants also attended, standing in for their bosses.
Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni shrine ruptured Tokyo's diplomatic ties with China and South Korea, which heavily suffered under Japan's colonial aggression during the first half of the 1900s. The shrine honors Japanese war dead, including executed wartime leaders.
Abe, a strong supporter of the Yasukuni visits, reportedly made a trip to the shrine in April.
But he has refused to confirm the reported visit, and maintains a policy of neither confirming nor denying whether he will visit the shrine in the future, apparently hoping to neither anger other Asian nations nor provoke a backlash from Japanese conservatives who back such visits.
Abe, who has vowed to improve political ties with China and South Korea, held the first summit in five years with his Chinese counterparts during his fence-mending trip earlier this month to Beijing and Seoul.
During the talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki defended the visit to the war shrine, saying that he believed the lawmakers followed their feelings and that the government stands by its commitment to deepen a future-looking relations with China.
He added that Japan has never promised to stop shrine visits.