Legacy of war in Asia

China and South Korea protest as Japan honours war dead at Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 11:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 10:40pm

China and South Korea called on Japan to face up to its wartime past after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to a shrine to war dead on Tuesday, the anniversary of Japan’s second world war surrender.

Masahiko Shibayama, a lawmaker who made the offering on Abe’s behalf, said he did so to express condolences for those who died in the war and to pray for peace. He added Abe said he was sorry he could not visit the Yasukuni Shrine.

Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged Beijing and Seoul because it honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with other war dead, sometimes chilling ties for months.

China’s relations with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during the second world war. Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945.

But maintaining harmony with China and South Korea is now more important than ever amid heightened tensions in the wake of North Korean missile tests, threats from North Korea to strike the area around the US Pacific territory of Guam and US President Donald Trump’s warning of retaliation.

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, said early Tuesday he would hold off on the planned missile launch.

“After the war, our country has consistently taken steps as a country that abhors war and treasures peace, and has made efforts to promote the peace and prosperity of the world,” Abe said at a national ceremony.

“We intend to keep this immovable policy firmly, throughout the ages, while facing history with humility.”

Dozens of Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine along with scores of ordinary Japanese, prompting protests from the South Korean and Chinese governments.

Among them was former defence minister Tomomi Inada, who is noted for her nationalist views.

The close Abe ally and one-time protégé resigned as defence minister late last month over a scandal at the ministry.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China resolutely opposed Japan’s “wrong actions” over the shrine.

“China urges Japan to earnestly face up to and deeply reflect upon its history of militarism,” she told a daily news briefing.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said: “We express our deep concerns that responsible leaders of Japan’s government and parliament are again paying tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine and visiting the shrine that glorifies the history of the war of aggression.”

Abe visited Yasukuni in 2013, an action that prompted criticism from key ally the United States as well as from Asian nations, but has since only sent offerings on August 15 and during Yasukuni’s twice yearly festivals.

Tensions in the region weighed on the minds of many who visited the shrine.

“I am furious about the threat from North Korea,” said Katsuhiko Ikeda, 78.

“North Korea’s missile threat towards Guam means anything would pass by Japan, and if anything happened, it could affect us.”

Tuesday marked the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945.

An official annual ceremony commemorating the end of the war was also held Tuesday inside a Tokyo arena and was attended by Abe as well as Emperor Akihito.

The 83-year-old emperor, whose plan to abdicate within three years was approved by parliament earlier this year, expressed “deep remorse”, saying he hopes the tragedy of war will not be repeated.

Tuesday’s events came a day after South Korea marked the 5th International Memorial Day for Comfort Women in Seoul.

Some 400,000 women across Asia were forced to be comfort women for the Japanese army during the second world war and nearly half of them were Chinese, according to the Research Centre for Comfort Women.

Activists are now pushing for Seoul to designate August 14 – a day before the anniversary of the country’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation – as a state memorial day for former comfort women.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse