China has summoned Japan’s ambassador in Beijing to protest against yesterday’s visit to a controversial war shrine by more than 150 Japanese politicians, including a Cabinet minister.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told reporters in Beijing the ministry had issued a “solemn protest” and “strong condemnation” of the pilgrimage to Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including several class-A war criminals.
The visit, made during the shrine’s autumn festival, was “a blatant attempt to whitewash Japanese militarism’s history of aggression and to challenge the outcomes of the second world war and the postwar international order,” Hua said. “China is resolutely opposed to that.”
Yesterday’s visit comes days after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated he would not visit the site this year in an apparent attempt to ease tensions with China and South Korea. He instead sent a ritual offering of a sacred tree branch this week.
Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a dispute over ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea — known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) in China and Taiwan. The territorial row deepened after Japan bought three of the five islets from their private owners just over a year ago.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have been overshadowed by a dispute over sovereignty of the islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan, and conflicting views on Japan’s used of Korean sex slaves before and during World War II.
Japanese Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo said he had visited Yasukuni yesterday in a private capacity to remember his grandfather, who died in the battle for Iwo Jima.
“I visited in a private capacity to pay homage to those who died in the war and to pray for peace,” Shindo said. “I don’t think it will develop into a diplomatic issue.”
Other visitors included Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who said it was “only natural to pray for the repose of the souls of people who have given their precious lives for the nation.”
China and South Korea view Yasukuni as a potent symbol of Japanese militarism, and visits there by politicians as evidence that Japan has yet to atone for atrocities it committed in Asia.
South Korea voiced regret over Abe’s offering.
“Our government cannot help but express deep concerns and regret over [his] offering to Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies its past wars of aggression and honors war criminals,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in Seoul.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman stopped short of mentioning Abe directly, saying: “We again ask Japan to seriously contemplate its history of aggression, and to sincerely respect the feelings of China and other victimized countries.”