China and South Korea have rebuffed Japan's objections to its plans to build a statue in China to commemorate an independence activist who assassinated the Japanese governor of Korea more than a century ago.
Ahn Jung-geun, who shot Hirobumi Ito on the platform at Harbin's railway station in October 1909, is widely regarded as a hero in Korea, but as a terrorist in Japan. Ahn was later executed.
Details of the plan for a memorial to Ahn were discussed in a meeting in Seoul on Monday between Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president, and Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi . According to media reports, Park expressed her gratitude for China's co-operation with the proposal.
In a press conference in Tokyo yesterday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described Ahn as a criminal.
"This is not good for Japan-South Korea relations," he said, adding that Tokyo's position that Ahn carried out a criminal act has been conveyed to the South Korean government.
Both Beijing and Seoul fired back almost immediately.
"Ahn Jung-geun is a very famous anti-Japanese fighter in history," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. "He is respected by the Chinese people as well. China will, in accordance with relevant regulations on memorial facilities involving foreigners, make a study to push forward relevant work."
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tae-young said Japan should "reflect on what kind of figure Hirobumi Ito was during Japan's era of imperialism and militarism and what Japan did to neighbouring nations at the time".
President Park said earlier this month that Japan should change its historical perception before she can hold any summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
"To us Japanese, Ahn was a terrorist," said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Japan's Fukui Prefectural University. "And while I agree that South Korea has the sovereign right to put up a statue within Korea's borders, doing it in a third country is a very anti-Japanese action. It makes me question whether Mrs Park really wants better relations with Japan at all."
He added that the South Korean leader "should have better advisers".
There were also implications for China, he added, suggesting that if Beijing permits the proposal to go ahead, it can have no complaints if the Uygur or Tibetan minorities choose to erect statues of their freedom fighters in other countries.
A memorial to Ahn has already been erected in Seoul and one of South Korea's submarines has been named after him.
North Korea made a propaganda movie based in part on the story. Ahn was born in Hwanghae Province in what is today North Korea.
According to accounts of the incident, Ahn shot Ito three times as he emerged from a train where he had been negotiating with Russian government officials.
Ito, the first prime minister of Japan, had recently concluded the signing of the Eulsa Treaty, which effectively sealed the annexation of the Korean peninsula by Japan.
Ahn was hanged on March 26, 1910. The location of his grave has never been confirmed.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg