A group of nearly 150 lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, after China and South Korea rebuked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for sending a traditional offering to the site that honors Japan’s war dead.
The 147 lawmakers are from several parties, according to ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Toshiei Mizuochi. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato also visited the shrine, Kyodo News reported.
“My father is enshrined there,” Hidehisa Otsuji, an LDP upper house lawmaker, told reporters today at Yasukuni. “I pray there all the time and have been doing so for decades, and today I prayed there in a calm way.”
Abe sent an offering during the annual spring festival that runs until April 23, Tomoaki Higuchi, a spokesman for the shrine, said yesterday. Yasukuni honors war dead including 14 World War II leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals.
The prime minister will not visit Yasukuni during the festival, said an aide to Abe who asked not to be named, citing government policy. The premier went to the shrine in December, the first visit by a sitting prime minister since 2006.
Abe’s latest gesture and visits by lawmakers and cabinet ministers risk stoking friction with Japan’s neighbors as territorial tensions remain high over islands in the East China Sea also claimed by China. U.S. President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Japan tomorrow as part of a four-nation Asia tour, while Vice President Joe Biden in a visit to the region in December called on all sides to take practical steps to “lower the temperature.”
With ties between China and Japan strained, a Shanghai court ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship owned by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. as compensation for the loss of two ships leased from a Chinese company before the countries went to war in 1937. It’s the first time a Chinese court has ordered the seizure of Japanese assets connected to World War II, and could cast a pall over the countries’ trade, said Shogo Suzuki, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who studies China-Japan relations.
China protested Abe’s offering and visits this month to the site by cabinet ministers, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters yesterday in Beijing. “The issue of the Yasukuni Shrine is something that always jeopardizes the relationship between Japan and its Asian neighbors,” Qin said.
South Korea “deplores” the shrine actions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said in an e-mailed statement. The moves are an “anachronistic act that undermines the stability and friendly relations among countries in the region,” he said.
Keiji Furuya, a minister in Abe’s cabinet and chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, visited the shrine on April 20. Minister for Internal Affairs Yoshitaka Shindo visited early today, shrine spokesman Higuchi said, after previously going to the site on April 12.
Their pilgrimages drew criticism from Abe’s coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito party. Party head Natsuo Yamaguchi said it is “absolutely not desirable” for the visits to be repeated and added that “serious consideration” should be given to the idea of an alternative national memorial. The comments, which were made to journalists, were posted on the party’s YouTube channel.
Cabinet members went to the shrine in a private capacity, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today in Tokyo. “For a cabinet minister to visit as an individual is a matter of personal religious freedom and not something in which the government should interfere,” he said.
Abe, who is a grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime commerce minister who served as prime minister in the 1950s, sent a cash donation to the shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II, and in October sent a ceremonial offering.
Obama will meet Abe during his visit and will then travel to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. The U.S. is seeking to shore up its relationship with allies in the region, including Japan, at a time of greater military assertiveness by China, and to help contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Abe’s decision to send an offering to the shrine is unlikely to cause major friction during Obama’s trip, according to Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
“I don’t think it’s going to have any impact on the visit,” he said. “There’s never been a harsh reaction” from either China or South Korea when past prime ministers sent an offering, he said.
Abe’s December shrine visit came weeks after China declared an air defense identification zone over much of the East China Sea covering the islands disputed with Japan. He has also pushed to loosen Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow a strengthening of the military. Biden had asked Abe to avoid visiting the shrine in a teleconference on Dec. 12, Kyodo News reported in January, citing people it did not identify.
Disputes between China and Japan have shifted to the courts, with a Chinese judge accepting a lawsuit last month against two Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Materials Corp., accused of using forced labor during the war.
The Baosteel Emotion was impounded on April 19 at Majishan port in Zhejiang province as part of a legal dispute that began in 1964, the Shanghai Maritime Court and Mitsui OSK said in notices on their websites.
Japan argues that China gave up its right to reparations as part of a 1972 joint communique signed when the two countries established diplomatic relations. The communique says China “declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.”