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Anger over shrine visit by Abe and ministers

Publication Date : 19-10-2012


Nearly 70 Japanese lawmakers, among them two Cabinet ministers and a potential future prime minister, visited a controversial war shrine, drawing angry words from China and South Korea and deepening a diplomatic rift between Japan and its neighbours.

Tokyo is embroiled in separate territorial disputes with Beijing and Seoul which have raised tensions and caused a surge in anti-Japanese sentiments, including ugly protests in China.

Yesterday, 67 lawmakers, including Land and Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and Postal Privatisation Minister Mikio Shimoji, prayed at the Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan's 2.5 million war dead. But the shrine's inclusion of several Class A war criminals has led countries in the region to view it as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism.

Yesterday's visit coincided with Yasukuni's four-day autumn festival which ends tomorrow. Japanese lawmakers also pray at the shrine during the spring festival in April and on August 15, a sensitive date marking the end of World War II in Japan.

A spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry condemned the ministers who visited for failing to consider the feelings of people in neighbouring countries who suffered under Japan's militarism.

Hata said he prayed in his private capacity while Shimoji said he went as secretary-general of the People's New Party, the junior partner of Japan's ruling coalition. Government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said the visits posed no problem as they were not official.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had urged his ministers to refrain from making official visits to Yasukuni, a rule that has not changed, Fujimura stressed.

However, what probably caused more concern in Beijing and Seoul was the visit by former prime minister Shinzo Abe, the newly elected head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on Wednesday. A political hawk, Abe stands to become prime minister again as his party could win the next general election, which must be held before July next year.

In a statement expressing Beijing's displeasure, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated China's long-held position that Japan "must reflect on its history and deal with it with responsibility and a future-looking spirit".

A commentary in the state- run Xinhua news agency said Abe was trying to woo conservative voters with his visit.

In Seoul, the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry expressed "deep regret and concern" that Abe saw it fit to visit the war shrine.

Major South Korean dailies characterised his visit as a "swing to the right" by Japan.

Abe told a meeting of LDP lawmakers recently that he regretted not praying at Yasukuni when he was premier for a year from September 2006 and hinted he might do so if he became prime minister again.


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