TOKYO • China and South Korea yesterday slammed Japan after dozens of Japanese lawmakers, including a Cabinet minister, visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.
The visit came one day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drew flak from China and South Korea over a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours millions of Japanese dead, including several senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.
"We hope that political figures in Japan would develop a correct understanding of history and do more to promote reconciliation and mutual trust between Japan and its Asian neighbours," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing in Beijing yesterday.
South Korea also blasted the visit, with foreign ministry spokesman Cho June Hyuck saying in a statement that the shrine "beautifies the colonial past and war of aggression, and enshrines war criminals".
The leafy central Tokyo shrine to Japan's Shinto religion has for decades been a lightning rod for criticism by countries that suffered under Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century. But Mr Abe and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers, and compare it to burial grounds such as Arlington National Cemetery in the US.
At least 92 lawmakers visited Yasukuni for its annual spring festival, of whom 79 were from Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, according to an official working for Upper House of Parliament member Toshiei Mizuochi.
Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi visited the shrine, though separately from the other lawmakers, according to footage shown on public broadcaster NHK.
Ms Takaichi's visit was "private" in nature, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, told a news conference. "A visit by a private person concerns the individual's freedom of religion and the government should not intervene."
The figure this time compares with the more than 100 lawmakers and three ministers who visited during last year's spring event.
For the shrine's autumn festival six months ago, 73 lawmakers and two ministers attended.
And on Aug 15, 2015 - the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II - two Cabinet ministers went to the shrine along with about 60 lawmakers. Mr Abe's wife, Akie, also visited Yasukuni in December.
Mr Abe went in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a pilgrimage that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned him a diplomatic rebuke from the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.
He has since refrained from going and reactions by China and South Korea to Yasukuni visits, while remaining critical, have become less intense as Japan has taken steps over the past 18 months to improve relations with both countries and Mr Abe has held summit meetings with their leaders.
Correction note: An earlier version of the story addressed Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi as Mr Takaichi. This is incorrect. It should be Ms Takaichi. We are sorry for the error.