Japanese lawmakers' visit to shrine for war dead stokes tensions with China
China criticises Japanese MPs' visit to a shrine for war dead, as tension festers over Diaoyus
Minnie Chan and Agencies in Tokyo
Sixty-seven Japanese MPs, including two cabinet ministers, visited a controversial Tokyo war shrine yesterday amid rising tensions between Japan and China over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
The Yasukuni Shrine visit by Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and Postal Privatisation Minister Mikio Shimoji came just a day after the leader of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Shinzo Abe, paid homage at the shrine.
The Japanese politicians were at an autumn festival at the shrine, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stayed away and previously told his cabinet to do the same. His administration sought to distance itself from the visit.
"A visit in a private capacity is a matter of the personal belief of individuals," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.
The Shinto shrine in central Tokyo honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals from the second world war.
Chinese officials have criticised the visits, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei yesterday urging Japan to "face the international community in a responsible manner".
The shrine visits come at a time when Japan is increasingly at odds with China over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, following the Tokyo's purchase of three of the islets from private owners.
The Chinese navy said it would stage an exercise in the East China Sea today with fishery administration and marine surveillance ships because they had been "stalked, harassed and even intentionally interfered with by foreign vessels" near the Diaoyus, Xinhua reported.
China-based Sino-Japanese experts said the shrine visits would further damage ties between Beijing and Tokyo, but the effect would be limited.
"Almost all the Japanese lawmakers visiting the shrine in the past two days have come from the opposition parities led by Abe's LDP," Professor Niu Zhongjun , an international relations specialist at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said. He added that the lawmakers were trying to earn political capital ahead of next year's general election in Japan.
Professor Peng Xi , deputy director of Nanjing University's Institute of Japanese Studies, said the Foreign Ministry's options were limited because the Noda administration had distanced itself from the shrine visits.
"We could only reiterate verbal protests because the Yasukuni Shrine issue has been the biggest headache between Japan, China and other Asian countries victimised during the second world war," Peng said. "In fact, Beijing also understands that it's just a political show because Abe has promised that he will not visit the shrine if he is elected Japan's new prime minister next year."
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse