Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, angering South Korea and China yesterday, and putting regional ties under further strain.
Adding to the unease in the region, a Shanghai maritime court on Saturday seized a ship owned by Japanese shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines in a move Tokyo warned could have an adverse impact on Japanese businesses in China.
The court said Mitsui O.S.K. Lines had failed to pay compensation stemming from a wartime contractual obligation, but the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the disagreement was a normal commercial dispute.
Tokyo said the seizure, apparently the first time a Japanese firm’s assets have been seized in a lawsuit over World War II compensation, was “extremely regrettable.”
“It is inevitable that this will have an adverse impact on Japanese companies in China,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “We strongly urge the Chinese government to make the proper response.”
The spat was a “regular business contract dispute,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) said, adding that Beijing would safeguard the rights of foreign investors.
“This case has nothing to do with compensation from the Chinese-Japanese war [WWII],” Qin told a regular news briefing.
“Nothing has changed in the Chinese government’s position on adhering to, and defending every principle in, the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement,” he added, referring to an announcement in 1972 that the two were establishing official ties.
At the time, Japan also recognized the government in Beijing as the sole government of China and China gave up claims to Japanese war reparations.
The offering by Abe, who visited the shrine last year, but did not go in person this time, was sent ahead of US President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Japan, which starts tomorrow.
Abe made his latest offering to the shrine as a private individual so it was not the government’s place to comment, Suga said, adding that “It will not have an impact on the US-Japan leaders meeting.”
Qin said Beijing had already lodged a protest with Tokyo, adding that the move reflected Japan’s “mistaken attitude towards history.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also responded angrily, saying: “We deplore the fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has romanticized Japanese colonialism and its war of aggression by paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine.”
A Mitsui O.S.K. spokesman said the company had been informed of the seizure order for its Baosteel Emotion, a 226,434 deadweight-tonne ore carrier, but was still trying to assess what was happening at the port. It did not confirm that the vessel was in the hands of the court.