Over a 100 Japanese lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Friday.
This led to an immediate response from China which accused Japan of damaging the post-World War Two new order.
Tokyo’s ambassador in Beijing was summoned to receive the full force of China’s anger. South Korea was also highly critical of the decision of the lawmakers to visit such a sensitive place as the Yasukuni Shrine at this time.
The visits to the Yasukuini Shrine were actually connected to a Japanese Autumn festival, and came only a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his third ritual offering to the shrine since returning to office last year. However, he did not visit it personally.
Until now, Abe has avoided the Yasukuni Shrine, which is in central Tokyo, where war criminals are honored along with other war dead. He has done this to avoid further straining ties with China and South Korea. Both countries suffered terribly from Japan’s aggressive invasions before its surrender in 1945.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference in Beijing:
“The Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol and spiritual tool of Japanese militarism. It consecrates monstrous crimes committed against Asia’s victimized peoples, including those in China, by 14 Class A war criminals… This is a major matter of principle bearing on the foundation of Sino-Japanese relations.”
According to Reuters, she said that it was just another attempt to whitewash Japan’s history “and challenge the end result of World War Two, as well as the post-war international order”.
Apart from Japan’s war dead, the Yasukuni Shrine also honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
The most senior member of the delegation to visit the shrine was Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo. He said: “I visited the shrine in a private capacity.” He pointed out that his grandfather was honored in the Yasukuni Shrine.
South Korea also cannot forget the brutal Japanese occupation and repeated its view that Japanese lawmakers should stay away from the Yasukuni Shrine.
Tokyo and Beijing have been in dispute for many months over a territorial argument concerning small islets in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. Japan’s is also at loggerheads with South Korea over a separate territorial dispute.
Abe is known as a strong nationalist with a conservative agenda. This includes revising the post-war pacifist constitution, strengthening Japan’s defense posture and recasting wartime history without apologizing..
He has said he was sorry that he did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine when he was prime minister previously.