Beijing protests at visit by 160 Japanese legislators to Yasukuni
A cabinet minister was among scores of Japanese parliamentarians to pay tribute at a controversial war shrine yesterday, drawing a rebuke from Beijing, which said the visit was a bid to whitewash history.
Yoshitaka Shindo, minister for internal affairs and communications, insisted he was paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine as an individual, and played down the potential for diplomatic fallout.
"I offered prayers in a private capacity," Shindo, who wore a morning suit, said.
"It's not something that should provoke comments from anyone," he said. "I don't think this will develop into a diplomatic issue at all."
Shindo was contradicted hours later in Beijing, where Tokyo's envoy was called in to the foreign ministry.
"Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has summoned the Japanese ambassador to China for a solemn protest and a strong condemnation," spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The visit to the shrine "is a blatant attempt to whitewash Japanese militarism's history of aggression and to challenge the outcomes of the second world war and the post-war international order. China is resolutely opposed to that," Hua said.
Seoul's response was more muted, with a foreign ministry official bemoaning the shrine's role as one that "justifies the history of Japan's aggression". "The government urges Japanese politicians to build trust with neighbouring countries through humble reflection and reconsideration of history," he said.
Some 160 members of parliament, about 20 per cent of the legislators. were at Yasukuni as part of the autumn festival, which runs until tomorrow. A record 166 made the trip during April's spring festival.
On Thursday Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated a symbolic gift to the shrine, in what was taken as a sign that he would not be there in person. Abe, who was also prime minister from 2006 to 2007, has stayed away from Yasukuni since he took office in December, although he visited the shrine last year when he was in opposition.
The shrine is controversial because of the inclusion of 14 of the men held responsible for Japan's often-brutal behaviour as it invaded a swathe of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.
Video: Japanese minister visits controversial war shrine