The Chinese government summoned Japan’s ambassador to lodge a protest after a cabinet minister visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which it said symbolizes Japanese militarism.
Internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo paid his respects at the shrine in Tokyo today to mark its autumn festival and about 160 lawmakers visited as a group, Kyodo News reported. Abe sent a traditional “masakaki” offering, according to an official in the shrine’s public relations department who asked not to be named because of policy.
Visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine, which honors the country’s war dead including World War II leaders convicted as Class A war criminals, spark anger in parts of Asia that suffered under Japanese occupation. Abe has not visited Yasukuni publicly since his election win in December, amid a territorial dispute with China that has prevented the two countries from holding a summit for almost 18 months.
Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin summoned Japan’s envoy for a “solemn protest and strong condemnation” of the visits, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing today.
“The Yasukuni shrine is a Japanese militarism symbol,” Hua said. Japanese visits to the shrine are “a blatant attempt to whitewash the Japanese military’s history of aggression,” she added. “It is a major matter of principle that is bearing on the political foundation of China-Japan relations.”
A commentary in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party, said Abe’s offering was no different from visiting in person. The paper said his move had hurt the feelings of Asian nations and challenged the current international order by harking back to the spirit of nationalism. The author’s name, Zhong Sheng, is a pseudonym meaning “Voice of China”, the paper said.
“Our country caused great damage and suffering to people in many countries in the past, particularly in Asia,” Abe said today in parliament. “In that respect, the Abe cabinet has inherited and shares the understanding of previous cabinets,” he said. “After the war, Japan, based on serious reflection, built a nation that respects freedom, democracy and basic human rights and has walked a path of peace for the past 68 years.”
Japan’s relations with China have been acrimonious since it bought three of five East China Sea islands last September that are also claimed by China. Since then, Japanese and Chinese patrol ships and planes have tailed one another through the area and trade, investment and tourism ties between Asia’s two largest economies have suffered. Japan is also embroiled in a separate territorial dispute with South Korea.
“These are important bilateral relationships for Japan,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “We want to prevent this kind of problem from affecting the whole relationship,” he added.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the ruling coalition’s New Komeito Party, said in parliament today that it is necessary to explain the Abe cabinet’s position carefully “at every possible opportunity.”
Abe has repeatedly said Japan’s door is open to talks. While he shook hands and briefly chatted with President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in St Petersburg in September, there has been no formal meeting at cabinet level since he took office.