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Friday, 19 October 2012

Japan ministers visit Tokyo war shrine amid anger from China, S Korea

Japan's transport minister Yuichiro Hata (centre) and other lawmakers visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday. Photo: AFP

67 Japanese lawmakers, including two cabinet ministers, have visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

The two cabinet members were Japanese Transport Minister, Yuichiro Hata, and Postal Minister, Mikio Shimoji. Their visit came a day after opposition leader Shinzo Abe’s visit to the shrine. The Yasukuni Shrine honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 leading World War Two war criminals.

The shrine is seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism by its Asian neighbours including China and South Korea, who have condemned the Japanese politicians’ visit. China’s Foreign Ministry called on Japan to face up to the international community.

Hong Lei, Spokesman of Chinese Foreign Ministry, said, "China’s position on this issue has been clear-cut and consistent: we urge the Japanese side to reflect upon history and strictly abide by its solemn statements and pledges regarding historical issues, and face the international community in a responsible manner."

Two Japanese ministers were part of a cross-party group of lawmakers who visited a controversial Tokyo war shrine on Thursday, the day after opposition leader Shinzo Abe angered China and South Korea by paying homage there.

Dozens of parliamentarians were at Yasukuni Shrine as part of celebrations for Japan’s autumn festival.

Among the lawmakers were transport minister Yuichiro Hata of the ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) and postal reform minister Mikio Shimoji of DPJ’s junior coalition partner, People’s New Party, local media said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has stayed away from the shrine and previously told his cabinet to do the same.

Opposition leader Shinzo Abe, a man well-placed to become Japan’s next prime minister, was at the Shinto shrine Wednesday, prompting criticism from China and South Korea.

China’s state media there said Abe’s visit would “further poison bilateral ties”.

“At such a delicate moment, Abe’s visit... has added insult to injury and dealt another blow to the already fragile Sino-Japanese relations,” the Xinhua news agency said.

“Provocative and short-sighted actions would harm the interests of Japan and its people,” it said, noting that already the “strained political ties have produced serious economic fallout for both sides”.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman expressed “deep regret and concern” that such a senior political leader and former prime minister saw fit to visit “a symbol of the Japanese war of aggression and militarism”.

Japan has spent the last few months at loggerheads with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea, and it is engaged in a propaganda war with South Korea over a long-standing territorial dispute involving a set of isolated islands.

Japan’s colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945 is still a source of bitter resentment among older generations and Abe, who was elected president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party last month, is already an unpopular figure here.

As prime minister in 2007, he enraged South Koreans by denying the Japanese military’s direct involvement in forcing women, many from the Korean peninsula, into sexual slavery during World War II.

The Shinto shrine in central Tokyo honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals from World War II.

Visits to the shrine by government ministers and high-profile figures spark outrage in China and on the Korean peninsula, where many feel Japan has failed to atone for its brutal aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo, Japan, is dedicted to over 2,466,000 Japanese soldiers and servicemen who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan in the last 150 years. It also houses one of the few Japanese war museums dedicated to World War II.The shrine is at the center of an international  controversy by honoring war criminals convicted by a post World War II court including 14 'Class A' war criminals. Japanese politicans, including prime ministers and cabinet members have paid visits to Yasukuni Shrine in recent years which caused criticism and protests from China, Korea, and Taiwan.

On August 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the second world war, two ministers – Hata and Jin Matsubara, the minister in charge of the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea – visited Yasukuni.

By Agence France-Presse in Tokyo

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