China and South Korea criticize visits to shrine

Updated: 2013-04-23 02:40

By Pu Zhendong (China Daily)

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Beijing and Seoul urged Tokyo on Monday to face up to its history of aggression, and objected to a ritual offering made by the Japanese prime minister to a controversial shrine which honors Japanese war criminals from World War II.

Calling it a "negative act", Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news conference that China has made solemn representations to Japan.

In protest, South Korea on Monday also shelved a proposed trip by Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to Tokyo.

Visits to the Yasukuni shrine have always been a source of tension between Japan and its Asian neighbors.

There is irrefutable evidence that Japanese militarism was responsible for crimes of aggression during World War II, Hua said. "Only by looking squarely at and reflecting on its history can Japan develop a real sense of friendly and cooperative relations with Asian neighbors."

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the latest visits to the shrine "anachronistic" and strongly urged Tokyo to "take responsible action" to win back the trust of its neighbors.

The South Korean foreign minister had planned to meet his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, with both countries under new leadership, but the plan was canceled after the Japanese officials’ visit.

Tokyo responded strongly, saying the visits were made in the ministers’ personal capacities and that the government had no official involvement, AFP reported. "Each country has its own position, and that kind of thing should not affect diplomacy," Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga said.

On Saturday, Japanese Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the shrine, becoming the first member of Abe’s Cabinet to do so. He was followed on Sunday by Taro Aso, deputy prime minister, and Keiji Furuya, chief of the National Public Safety Commission. Abe did not visit but made an offering of a pine tree to the shrine.

Observers said the Abe administration has behaved badly in terms of facing up to historical issues, since the number and rank of officials visiting the Yasukuni shrine have exceeded precedents set by officials in previous administrations.

Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japanese studies at Tsinghua University, said Abe chose to send an offering instead of going personally, only in consideration of the upper house election of the Japanese Parliament in July.

"His actions speak louder than words," Liu said. "Abe knows visiting the shrine will upset neighboring countries, yet he still allows his ministers to go, showing his unchanged indifference toward history and to improving ties with China and South Korea."

Abe does not realize how important his attitude to history means in terms of improving relations with China and South Korea, said Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

AFP contributed to the story.