Japan defence minister’s Yasukuni visit draws criticism from China and South Korea
Japan Defence Minister Tomomi Inada’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday drew prompt criticism from Beijing and South Korea which suffered from past Japanese colonisation and military aggression.
The hawkish defence minister prayed at the controversial war shrine the day after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a highly symbolic visit to Pearl Harbour.
Beijing said it would make “solemn representations” to Japan while Seoul called the visit “deplorable”.
Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is controversial for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
Inada’s visit was her first since taking the key defence portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.
“By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world,” she said.
She noted that Barack Obama - “the president of a country that dropped atomic bombs” - had gone to Hiroshima earlier this year, while Abe “voiced words to console the spirits of the dead” at Pearl Harbour.
The timing is likely to prove highly contentious coming so soon after Abe and Obama’s joint visit to the site of Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on the navy base in Hawaii that drew the US into the second world war.
Inada is a close confidante of Abe with staunchly nationalist views. Abe, who was reportedly playing golf, said he had “no comment” on her visit, Jiji Press said.
The visit, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said: “not only reflects once again the stubborn and erroneous historical view of some Japanese people, but also evinces a great irony following on the heels of the so-called ‘tour of reconciliation’ to Pearl Harbour.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry summoned Kohei Maruyama, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in South Korea, to lodge a protest over the Yasukuni visit.
“We express deep concern and regret over Japan’s defence minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine, even as our government has been emphasising the need to create a new, forward-looking South Korea-Japan relationship,” it said in a statement.
The country’s Defence Ministry expressed “serious concern and regret”.
Inada wrote in 2011 that Japan - the only country in the world to suffer atomic bomb attacks - should consider acquiring nuclear weapons.
In August after becoming defence minister she told reporters that Japan “should not consider arming itself with nuclear weapons at this moment”.
In 2014, she and another conservative lawmaker were seen in separate photographs standing next to the leader of a Japanese neo-Nazi party, though spokesmen for both denied any political affiliation.
Inada argued Thursday that paying respect to war dead should be universally accepted, echoing the argument repeated by Japanese lawmakers who frequently visit Yasukuni.
“Regardless of the types of views that you hold about history, regardless of whether you are foes or friends, I believe wishes to express gratitude and to respect and commemorate whose who died for their nations can be understood in any country,” she said.
Dozens of conservative lawmakers visit the shrine on the anniversary marking Japan’s surrender in the second world war.
On Wednesday, Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of the reconstruction of northern Japan after the massive 2011 tsunami, went to Yasukuni shortly after Abe wrapped up his visit to Hawaii.
Abe and Obama paid homage to the more than 2,400 Americans killed in Japan’s surprise attack against the Pacific Fleet and issued declarations about the power of reconciliation and warned against fomenting conflict.
The prime minister’s Pearl Harbour visit followed Obama’s May journey to Hiroshima, the scene of the world’s first atomic attack days in August 1945.
Abe, who has called for strengthening Japan’s military, has himself avoided Yasukuni after going there three years ago to commemorate his first anniversary as prime minister.
His trip there sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was “disappointed” by the action.
He has stayed away after that, but Japanese conservatives have called on him to resume visits.
Additional reporting by Kyodo, Reuters and Associated Press