Seoul on Friday condemned the visit by a Japanese cabinet minister and some 150 lawmakers to the country’s controversial war shrine that it claims glorifies Tokyo’s history of aggression.
The worship led by Yoshitaka Shindo, minister for internal affairs and communications, came the day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual gift to the Yasukuni Shrine to mark the onset of an annual autumn festival.
The Tokyo temple reveres about 2.5 million Japanese war dead including top colonial leaders and World War II criminals implicated massacres, sex slavery, forced labor and other crimes.
“Our consistent stance is that Japan’s politicians should not pay their respects to Yasukuni that justifies its history of aggression,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“We once again urge them to display words and behavior that could build trust with neighbor countries based on humble introspection and self-reflection toward history.”
Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young also expressed “deep concern and regret” over Abe’s donation of the “masakaki” tree, the third such offering time since returning to office early this year.
Though the premier opted for the gift seemingly to preclude repercussions from Korea and China over a visit in person, he has defended trips to Yasukuni, saying it is “quite natural” to venerate “the souls of those who lost their lives in the service of their country.”
Tokyo’s relations with Seoul and Beijing have been frayed by the Japanese government’s denial and refusal to repent for wartime and colonial atrocities, as well as sovereignty rows over small islets in the East Sea and the East China Sea, respectively.
Further backlash arose in May after Abe likened the shrine to the Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine. The facility is home to some 400,000 fallen U.S. troops from the Civil War to battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an apparent swipe at the hawkish premier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel early this month laid a wreath at Chidori ga Fuchi, a Tokyo cemetery which Washington officials called Japan’s “closest equivalent” to Arlington.
By Shin Hyon-hee