BEIJING (Yonhap News) ― China on Monday dismissed a diplomatic protest by Japan over its memorial to a revered Korean independence hero as unacceptable, renewing its calls for Japanese leaders to squarely face history.
The Chinese government opened the memorial hall on Sunday in the northern city of Harbin to honor Ahn Jung-geun, the symbol of the Korean independence movement, who assassinated a prominent Japanese colonial leader a century ago.
Ahn shot to death the Korean Peninsula’s first Japanese governor-general, Hirobumi Ito, at a railway station in Harbin in 1909. Ahn is viewed as a national hero, but Japan drew criticism by describing him as a “criminal.”
On Monday, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that Japan would lodge a protest with China through a diplomatic channel, calling the move “regrettable.”
In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei dismissed the remarks by Suga, saying the memorial is “justified.”
“Ahn Jung-geun is a famous anti-Japanese personnel who is also respected by the Chinese people,” Hong told reporters at a daily briefing.
“The establishment of the relevant memorial facility is completely reasonable and justified,” Hong said. “We can’t accept the opposition.”
Hong urged “the Japanese leaders to squarely face history and win the trust of Asian neighbors as well as the international community.”
China‘s move to honor Ahn, widely seen as a slap in the face to Japan, comes as Japan’s relations with its neighbors, especially with Beijing and Seoul, have plunged to one of their lowest points in many years over their shared history and territorial disputes.
Japan has drawn scathing criticism from South Korea and China after its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, paid homage late last month to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors 14 Class-A convicted criminals by the Allied forces after World War II.
South Korea and China had been in “close cooperation” to build the memorial at the Harbin railway station, a diplomatic source said earlier in the day.
China had been originally considering setting up a monument to honor Ahn since South Korean President Park Geun-hye asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to do so during their summit last June.
Instead of a monument, however, China decided to build the memorial hall and informed South Korea of the plan last autumn, the source said on the condition of anonymity.
“Since President Park paid a state visit to China last June, the two nations have been in close cooperation on how to set up a monument for Patriot Ahn Jung-geun,” the source said.
“In late autumn last year, the Chinese side notified us that it would build something beyond a monument,” the source said.
The assassination by Ahn took place a year before the Korean Peninsula was formally subjugated by Japan as its colony. At that time, Korea, which remained as a kingdom, was helpless, as its diplomatic power was usurped by Japan. In 1910, Ahn was executed at a Japanese prison in the northern Chinese city of Ryojun, now called Lushun, in the same year.
South Korea’s foreign ministry welcomed the memorial hall on Monday, expressing hope that it will provide an “opportunity for Northeast Asian nations to set the path for genuine peace and cooperation based on correct historical awareness.”