China condemned a visit by two Japanese ministers to a controversial shrine for war dead yesterday, further straining already tense relations between Asia’s two largest economies.
Sino-Japanese relations have soured sharply in the past month when a row over disputed islands, the Diaoyutais (釣魚台), led to violent anti-Japanese protests across China and badly hurt trade. The islands are also claimed by Taiwan.
The ministers’ pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, seen by many in the region as a symbol of Japan’s war-time militarism, came a day after a visit to the site by Japan’s main opposition party leader and former prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Xinhua news agency said the Chinese navy would conduct a joint exercise today in the East China Sea with the Chinese Fishery Administration and Marine Surveillance Agency.
It said the aim of the exercise was for “the effective maintenance of China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”
Fourteen Japanese wartime leaders convicted as World War II criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored at the shrine along with other war dead.
Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Yuichiro Hata said his visit was private.
“I visited as a secretary-general of the People’s New Party. It won’t be a big diplomatic problem,” said Shimoji, whose party is a small coalition partner of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs disagreed.
“The Yasukuni Shrine is a spiritual pillar used by Japanese militarism for its overseas aggression. It still enshrines Class-A war criminals who owe victimized people heavy bloody debts,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a daily news briefing.
South Korea also reacted angrily to the visit.
A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman expressed “deep regret and concern” that such a senior political leader as Abe saw fit to visit “a symbol of the Japanese war of aggression and militarism.”
Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 is still a source of bitter resentment among older South Koreans and Abe is an unpopular figure in South Korea.
As prime minister in 2007, he enraged South Koreans by denying the Japanese military’s direct involvement in forcing women, many from the Korean Peninsula, into sexual slavery during World War II.
More recently, he pledged to revise an official apology Japan made in 1993 over the so-called “comfort women” issue.
The Yasukuni visits are likely to further strain relations at a time when Japan and South Korea are engaged in a propaganda war over a long-standing territorial dispute involving a set of isolated islands.