Japan defence chief's war shrine visit angers Beijing, Seoul

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japan's hawkish Defence Minister Tomomi Inada infuriated neighbours China and South Korea with her visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine yesterday, after returning from a historic trip with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Pearl Harbour.

The shrine, which honours 14 convicted Class A war criminals among 2.5 million Japanese war dead, is seen as glorifying the country's militarism and wartime aggression.

Seoul immediately slammed the visit as "deplorable" while Beijing called it a "huge irony" that she should go to pray at the shrine even as Mr Abe's "words about reconciliation are still ringing in the ears".

Ms Inada told reporters after her visit that paying respect to the war dead should be universally acceptable, regardless of political beliefs.

"Regardless of the types of views that you hold about history, regardless of whether you are foes or friends, I believe wishes to express gratitude and to respect and commemorate those who died for their nation can be understood in any country," she said.

A WISH THAT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD

Regardless of the types of views that you hold about history, regardless of whether you are foes or friends, I believe wishes to express gratitude and to respect and commemorate those who died for their nation can be understood in any country.

DEFENCE MINISTER TOMOMI INADA, seen here on her visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine yesterday.

"I offered my prayers with the wish to firmly build peace for Japan and the world from a future-oriented perspective," she added.

Ms Inada, a close ally of Mr Abe, is the second right-wing minister to have visited Yasukuni, after disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura did so on Wednesday.

The timing of her visit is contentious, coming a day after Mr Abe paid homage at Pearl Harbour, offering his "sincere and everlasting condolences" to those who died in World War II. It was Japan's surprise strike on the US Navy base in 1941 that drew the United States into the war.

Mr Abe has steered clear of Yasukuni since a visit in December 2013 drew sharp rebukes from Beijing and Seoul, and led Washington to voice its disappointment. He said that he had "no comment" on the visit.

Seoul summoned a senior official from the Japanese Embassy in protest while Beijing said it will make "strict representations".

"This will only make the world more wary about Japan's intentions. We once again urge Japan to deeply reflect and face up to its history of aggression," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry said it was deplorable for Ms Inada to visit a shrine that "beautifies colonial aggression and honours war criminals", and that Japan's leaders will win their neighbours' trust only if they "humbly reflect on history".

Its Defence Ministry separately stressed that both sides should strive towards "a future-oriented relationship while facing up to history".

Though Mr Abe did not himself visit the shrine, analysts such as Professor Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University said the visit "conveys an unremorseful view of Japan's misdeeds and derails Mr Abe's reconciliation diplomacy".

Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano said that there was "no way" Mr Abe did not know about the visit ahead of time. "In other words, it is the express will of his government on display here," he said.

Kobe University's Dr Tosh Minohara called the timing "awful", and wondered if the visit was meant to nullify potential discontent among fervent right-wing conservatives.

"The history issue is becoming a political weapon. Pearl Harbour was historical and a symbolic new chapter, but Ms Inada's visit makes it seem like Japan is going back to the past," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Japan defence chief's war shrine visit angers Beijing, Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe