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Legacy of war in Asia

Japanese lawmakers ignore China rebuke and visit controversial Yasukuni war shrine

China and South Korea see the shrine as a painful reminder of Tokyo’s wartime brutality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 11:52am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 10:29pm

Dozens of Japanese members of parliament visited Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Tuesday to mark an autumn festival at the shrine, seen in China and the two Koreas as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Kyodo news agency said about 80 lawmakers visited the shrine. Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki sent an aide to represent him, an official at Shiozaki’s office said. Earlier, Kyodo had said Shiozaki himself went.

The group visit came a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine, prompting a sharp rejoinder from China and a reminder from Tokyo’s close ally Washington of the importance of reconciliation over the past.

Visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged China and South Korea because the shrine honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with other war dead.

South Korea expressed “deep concern and disappointment” over the shrine visit and offering by Japanese political leaders.

“(We) urge Japanese politicians to gain trust from neighbouring countries and the international community by showing an act of humble introspection and sincere self-reflection on the foundation of the correct perception of history,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it to Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

“Every country pays respects to people who died for his or her country,” Hidehisa Otsuji, who headed the group of lawmakers, told reporters Tuesday.

On Monday, speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted Abe’s offering, urging Japan to “reflect on its aggressive history and take concrete actions to win back the trust of its Asian neighbours and the international community”.

Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was “disappointed” by the action.

He has since refrained from going, sending ritual offerings instead.

There was no sign that Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, who has been accused by China of recklessly misrepresenting wartime history, had visited or made an offering at the shrine.

On the previous customary occasion for high-profile Yasukuni visits, the August 15 anniversary of Japan’s second world war surrender, the newly appointed Inada was visiting troops in Djibouti and unable to go to the shrine.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse