China and South Korea reacted sharply after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an "offering" to a controversial war shrine and lawmakers from his party, including two cabinet ministers, visited the shrine on the 69th anniversary of Japan's defeat in the second world war.
The Yasukuni shrine "is a place that honours Class A war criminals of the second world war and whitewashes Japan's war of aggression", foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
"The core of all the issues surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine is whether the Japanese government can own up to and adopt a correct attitude towards its history of aggression. Only when Japan earnestly faces up to and deeply reflects on its history of aggression and completely makes a clean break from militarism, can it be possible for Sino-Japanese relations to achieve a healthy and stable development," Hua said.
In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye echoed Beijing's sentiment, saying the actions of some Japanese politicians were splitting the two nations.
"Our government has urged Japanese leaders to correctly recognise history," she said.
Abe visited the shrine in December, chilling ties with China and South Korea. By sending an offering, Abe appeared to be trying not to worsen tensions while upholding a conservative ideology that takes a less apologetic tone over Japan's wartime past.
The shrine honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as Japan's war dead.
"I think it's natural to pay homage to the people who sacrificed their precious lives for this country," said Keiji Furuya, whose portfolios include the National Public Safety Commission.
"I am a member of parliament but I am also a Japanese citizen, so while praying for world peace I offered my respects."
Koichi Hagiuda, an Abe aide and lawmaker, presented the ritual offering, which was made in Abe's name as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
"He wants to express his respect and to pay homage to the people who sacrificed their lives for the nation, while praying for a lasting peace," Hagiuda said.
Tokyo had hoped that by staying away, Abe would send a signal to China of his desire to ease tensions and pave the way for a summit with President Xi Jinping .
But Xinhua said Abe's show of "compromise and sincerity" was unacceptable. "It has become a matter of urgency for the current Japanese leaders to truly reflect upon the lessons of history so as to avert a risky future," it said.
Beijing and Seoul have criticised Abe's government for backing away from its post-war pacifism, by easing weapons export restrictions and ending a ban on its military fighting abroad.
Yesterday Abe visited a non-controversial cemetery for unidentified Japanese war dead.
"We must carve out the future of this country for current as well as future generations as we face history with humility and engrave its lessons deeply into our hearts," Abe said in front of Emperor Akihito.
In Hong Kong, a protest was held against the reinterpretation of the constitution in Japan.
"Japan considers today a national day of shame, but Japan's militarism has never ceased in the past 69 years," said Lo Chau, chairman of an activist group that claims Chinese sovereignty over islets administered by Japan in the East China Sea.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters