South Korea blasted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday for defending his much-denounced visit to a controversial war shrine last month.
Indicating that he may continue visiting the Yaskuni Shrine, Abe said during the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday that Japan is determined not to wage another war and that the war shrine is designed to honor regular Japanese war dead, not Class-A war criminals.
"Paying respects at the Yasukuni Shrine equates to not repenting for Japan's imperialist wrongdoings," Seoul foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said in a briefing. "The continued Yasukuni visits by Japanese leaders are incomprehensible."
"This is not only the voice of us (South Koreans). The media, intellectuals and sensible people in Northeast Asia and the world are of the same voice," the spokesman said. "It's incomprehensible how Japan turns a deaf ear to such calls."
The shrine honors Japanese war dead including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II. Abe's visit to the shrine last month triggered angry reactions from Seoul and Beijing where memories of Japan's wartime atrocities still run deep.
"Stopping respect-paying visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese political leaders including the prime minister should be the starting point for friendly South Korea-Japan relations as well as building stability in this region," Cho said.
Seoul has repeatedly accused Japan of being inconsistent by calling for better Seoul-Tokyo ties while continuing visits to the shrine.
Despite strong complaints from Seoul and Beijing after Abe's visit to the shrine in December, a Japanese cabinet member paid his respects there in early January, further deepening tensions with Japan's neighbors.
Due to the history-related tensions, combined with Japan's renewed territorial claims to the easternmost South Korean islets of Dokdo, Seoul-Tokyo ties have severely deteriorated in recent months.
The leaders of the two nations have yet to hold a summit meeting, despite each being in office for more than a year.