BY Daniel Schearf – SEOUL — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine Thursday, sparking outrage in China and South Korea and further damaging Japan’s already frosty relations with the region. Yasukuni shrine honors the country’s nearly 2.5 million war dead, including convicted World War II war criminals.
Nonetheless, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded sharply to Abe’s action.
Qin said the Chinese government wished to express strong outrage and protest, and solemnly condemns Japanese leaders ruthlessly trampling the feelings of Chinese people, and people of other war-affected Asian countries, and bluntly challenging historical justice and human conscience.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an un-named government official saying the shrine visit would have diplomatic repercussions.
Japan’s neighbors are also concerned about Abe’s plans to change the country’s pacifist constitution to expand the role of Japan’s self-defense forces.
South Korea’s Minister of Culture, Yoo Jin-ryong, read a short statement on live TV on behalf of the government, in which he said Abe’s trip to the Yasukuni shrine shows his incorrect understanding of history. He also said that the visit was an anachronistic action which damages fundamental stability and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
To help repair relations, Abe declined to visit the shrine during his first term in office (2006-2007) or in August to mark the anniversary of Japan’s surrender.
It is not clear why he chose to visit Yasakuni now when Japan’s relations in Northeast Asia are at a low point over territorial disputes and historical grievances.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo expressed disappointment with Abe’s action and said it will worsen tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
- Shinto shrine built in 1869 to enshrine the souls of around 2.5 million war dead
- Commemorates 14 men convicted of war crimes after Japan’s World War II surrender
- Seen by many Asians as a symbol of Japan’s brutal imperialistic era
- Has become a rallying point for some conservative Japanese lawmakers
VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.