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Japanese PM visits Yasukuni Shrine

Publication Date : 27-12-2013

 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday morning, making his first visit there as prime minister and the first by any incumbent prime minister in the seven years and four months since Junichiro Koizumi’s visit on Aug 15, 2006.

Abe told reporters afterward that he visited Yasukuni to make “a pledge to never wage a war again” to avoid the suffering brought by the devastation of war. He did not visit the shrine—where the nation’s war dead, including those who perished during World War II, are enshrined—during his first administration.

Since Abe launched his second administration a year ago, he has refrained from visiting the shrine to avoid turning such a visit into a diplomatic issue. However, he apparently decided to visit the shrine on the day that marked the first anniversary of his current administration as there are almost no prospects of improving relations with China and South Korea.

The visit has enraged China and South Korea.

Abe arrived at the shrine shortly after 11:30am dressed in a morning suit. He went to the Honden main shrine to offer prayers.

“The purpose of my visit today, on the anniversary of my administration’s taking office, is to report [before the souls of the war dead] how my administration has worked for one year and to build an age which is free from the sufferings by the devastation of war,” Abe told reporters.

“It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people,” he added. “It is the common stance of leaders around the world to pray for the spirits of the war dead and put one’s hands together.”

He revealed that he also visited the Chinreisha, a small shrine located on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine was erected for the purpose of consoling the souls of all people who have died on battlefields, including those in foreign countries.

Asked whether he intended to periodically visit the shrine from next year, he said, “Allow me to refrain from talking about it now.” Class A war criminals, such as former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, are also enshrined at Yasukuni.

He also announced a statement titled “Pledge for everlasting peace” both in Japanese and English.

“It was a matter of deepest regret,” Abe repeatedly said during his campaigns for Liberal Democratic Party president and House of Representatives elections last year, referring to the fact that he could not visit the shrine during his first administration. He has, therefore, never hidden his intention to visit the shrine during his current term.

After he assumed office last year, however, he tried to avoid clearly stating when he would visit. Due to diplomatic considerations, he did not visit the shrine during the spring or autumn festival periods, or on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of the war. Instead, he has sent masakaki decorated wooden stick offerings under his name with the title of the prime minister or paid a tamagushi fee for a sacred tree branch under the title of LDP president.

However, Abe effectively fulfilled his promise to supporters with the visit.

As there has been progress on the issue of relocating functions of the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, the stage was set for the government to obtain the understanding of the US government—which does not want Japan to worsen relations with China and South Korea—regarding the visit, political observers said.

After leaving the prime minister’s post in 2007, Abe visited the shrine every year on such occasions as August 15. Last year, he visited the shrine on October 17 when the regular autumn festival was held at the shrine, after he became LDP president.

China slams visit

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday, “We strongly protest and harshly criticize the visit,” in a statement issued after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit that day to Yasukuni Shrine.

The ministry was to summon Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera on Thursday to lodge a protest.

Referring to the worsening relations between Japan and China since the Japanese government’s nationalisation of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Qin said Abe’s visit “brought a serious political hindrance to improvement and development of bilateral relations”.

The Chinese government has strongly opposed visits to the shrine by prime ministers and other Cabinet ministers. When Abe made a ritual offering of masakaki tree stands for the shrine’s annual autumn festival in October, it was seen as a de facto visit to the shrine by the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official publication.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin summoned Kitera to protest at that time.

Currently, a group of superpartisan Diet members promoting friendly relations with China is visiting the country. Led by House of Representatives member Yuko Obuchi, the group was to hold talks Thursday evening with Chinese Vice Premier Lie Yandong in Zhongnanhai in Beijing.

Kitera has canceled his scheduled trip to Japan from Thursday.

South Korea reproaches Abe

A South Korean government official interviewed by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Thursday morning criticised Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

“Efforts made by both Japan and South Korea come to nothing [because of the visit],” he said. “Since Abe did not visit Yasukuni Shrine until now [during his term], things were going well. I don’t understand why he paid the visit. It casts doubt on the trust and sincerity of the Japanese government.”

According to sources close to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, the South Korean government strongly demanded Abe not make the visit when the country received advance notice via diplomatic channels. - With reports from Aya Igarashi/Junichi Toyoura

 

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