Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan visited a contentious Tokyo war shrine early on Thursday,provoking swift condemnation from China and South Korea,both victims of Japans wartime aggression.
Wearing formal attire and followed by news media helicopters that broadcast his visit live on television,Abe led a group of government officials into the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo to pay his respects. Television cameras were not allowed into the inner shrine.
Abes visit to the shrine,which honours Japans war dead,including Class A war criminals from the World War II era,was the first by a sitting Japanese prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi paid his respects there in 2006.
Among those honoured by the shrine,of Japans native Shinto religion,are several who were executed as war criminals after World War II. Past visits by Japanese politicians have angered China and South Korea,both of which suffered greatly under Japans empire-building efforts in the early 20th century.
Japanese prime ministers had stayed away from the shrine in recent years as the country sought to improve relations with China and South Korea.
Abe himself did not visit the shrine during his first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007,but he has since expressed regret for that.
Speaking to reporters after his brief visit,Abe expressed frustration that the shrine still provoked such controversy.
He said he had paid his respects not just to those who gave their lives serving Japan,but to fallen soldiers around the world.
He added that it was normal for any national leader to honour the war dead,and that he had prayed for peace.
Japan must never wage war again, Abe said. This is my conviction based on severe remorse for the past. It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people.
Abe has also sought to bolster Japans military standing,increasing the countrys military spending for the first time in a decade and adopting a new defence plan that calls for the purchase of drones and amphibious assault vehicles to counter Chinas rapid military buildup in the region.
Chinas reaction to Abes visiting the shrine was swift.
The Chinese government expresses its strong indignation that Japanese leaders brutally trample the feelings of the Chinese and other Asian peoples victimized in wars, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
South Korea also condemned Abes visit to the shrine. Our government cannot help but deplore and express anger that Prime Minister Abe… paid respect at the Yasukuni shrine,which glorifies Japans colonial rule and war of aggression, Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong said in a statement.
The United States also criticized Abes visit. NYT