TOKYO: A cabinet minister was among scores of Japanese MPs to pay tribute at a controversial war shrine yesterday, drawing a rebuke from Beijing which said the visit was a bid to “whitewash” history.
Yoshitaka Shindo, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, insisted he was paying homage at Yasukuni Shrine as an individual, and played down the potential for diplomatic fallout.
“I offered prayers in a private capacity,” Shindo said after making his offering of a branch from a sacred tree. “It’s not something that should provoke comments from anyone. I don’t think this will develop into a diplomatic issue.”
Shindo was contradicted hours later in China, where Japan’s envoy was called by the foreign Ministry.
“Vice Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin summoned the Japanese ambassador for a protest and condemnation,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The visit to the shrine “is a blatant attempt to whitewash Japanese militarism’s history of aggression and challenge outcomes of the Second World War and the post-war international order. China is opposed to that.”
South Korea’s response was muted, with a Foreign Ministry official bemoaning the shrine’s role as one that “justifies the history of Japan’s aggression”. “The government urges Japanese politicians to build trust with neighbouring countries through humble reflection and reconsideration of history,” he said.
Yesterday, about 160 MPs, about 20 percent of Japan’s lawmakers, were at Yasukuni as part of the autumn festival, which runs until tomorrow. A record 166 made the trip during April’s spring festival.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday donated a symbolic gift to the shrine, in what was taken as a sign that he would not be there in person.
Yasukuni is the believed repository of the souls of about 2.5 million war dead. The shrine is controversial because of the inclusion of 14 of the men held responsible for Japan’s often-brutal behaviour as it invaded a swathe of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.
The museum attached to the shrine peddles a largely unapologetic view of the Second World War that is not widely accepted, either at home or abroad.
China and South Korea, whose peoples suffered under Japan’s militarist rule, say Yasukuni is a symbol of Tokyo’s present-day unwillingness to come to terms with its past misdeeds.
But Japanese conservatives say it is natural that they pay homage to people who lost their lives in the service of their country, and insist the shrine is no different from Arlington National Cemetery, where the US honours its war dead.
Abe, who was also prime minister from 2006 to 2007, has stayed away from Yasukuni since he took office in December, although he visited the shrine last year when he was in opposition. AFP