China and Japan accused each other of threatening stability on Wednesday as a diplomatic battle over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a contested war shrine reached the UN Security Council.
China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, seized upon a debate on the lessons of conflict to slam Abe for going to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war criminals among the country’s war dead.
Attempts to change history “destabilise regional peace and pose a serious challenge to the peaceful course of mankind,” Liu said.
South Korea also condemned Abe’s December 26 visit to the shrine that honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 war criminals from the second world war.
But Japan rebuffed the attacks.
“Japan does not believe that such actions are helpful in lowering tensions and enhancing the stability in the region,” said the country’s deputy UN ambassador, Kazuyoshi Umemoto.
Other countries see Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s refusal to come to terms with its wartime past. But Japan is also involved in a tense territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.
China has repeatedly condemned Abe for the shrine visit while tensions over the islands have mounted.
Abe “paid hommage to those who launched a war of aggression and were up to their elbows in the blood of the people in the countries they invaded,” said the Chinese envoy.
“Abe’s hommage to those fascist war criminals is nothing less than a challenge to the victorious outcome of the war against fascism.”
“Abe is trying to reverse the verdict on the war and defend war criminals,” he added.
South Korea’s UN ambassador, Ah Joon, highlighted the plight of Korean “comfort women” forced to act as sex slaves for Japanese troops in the war.
“Tensions are escalating more than ever before due to the distrust among states in Northeast Asia,” Ah told the council debate.
“And this mainly stems from the fact that the Japanese leadership has a distorted view of what happened during the time of imperialism.”
He said Japanese leaders had “shown an attitude of historical revisionism” by going to Yasukuni and making “irresponsible” remarks over the militarist past.
“If Japan seriously wishes to contribute to regional and global peace, it should refrain from provoking its neighbours with its denial of history,” the South Korean envoy said.
Japan’s prime minister has denied paying any tribute to the war criminals and has in turn criticised what he calls China’s increasing military assertiveness.
Japanese envoy Umemoto rejected the diplomatic assault, insisting his country “squarely facing these historical facts, has expressed its feelings of remorse and heartfelt apology” for its wartime actions.
“Japan’s position is that this issue should not be politicised or be turned into a diplomatic issue,” he said. Japan, he added, wants “a future-oriented and co-operative relationship” with China and South Korea.
Japan has seen repeated calls for a summit with its neighbours rejected by Beijing and Seoul.