South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se canceled a trip to Tokyo after Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso and other Cabinet members visited a shrine seen in Asia as a symbol of wartime aggression.
Yun canceled a meeting with counterpart Fumio Kishida, said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official who asked not to be named in line with ministry policy. While the official declined to give dates for the trip or a reason for the cancellation, the ministry released a statement expressing “deep concerns and regret” for the visits to Yasukuni Shrine over the weekend. China also lodged a diplomatic protest.
The visits, timed with the shrine’s spring festival, were the first by members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government since his Liberal Democratic Party regained power in December. While Abe didn’t go to the shrine, he did send an offering, a gesture that harkens back to Japan’s spirit of militarism, a Chinese newspaper said today in a commentary.
Yun’s cancellation could impede efforts by Japan and South Korea to coordinate a response to threats by North Korea, which has warned of attacks in the region as it expands its nuclear weapons program. Japan is also mired in territorial disputes with South Korea and China even as it seeks to accelerate talks on a trilateral free trade agreement.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said no meeting between Yun and Kishida had been finalized. He said the visits by three Cabinet members to Yasukuni, as well as Abe’s donation, were made as “private citizens.” Aso’s visit yesterday was preceded by similar trips by Keiji Furuya, the minister in charge of the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea, and Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo.
The fact that Abe only sent an offering rather than visit the shrine doesn’t change the nature of his act, and Japan has no future if it insists going down the wrong road, according to the commentary published today in the People’s Daily newspaper, published by China’s ruling Communist Party.
The Yasukuni Shrine commemorates Japan’s war dead, including World War II leaders convicted by an international tribunal of war crimes. The Tokyo shrine is viewed in China and Korea as a symbol of military atrocities during Japan’s occupation of Asia in the first half of the 20th century.
“Japan must face up to its past,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing, saying the government filed a formal protest.