TOKYO (DPA) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday (Oct 17) made a ritual offering of a sacred tree branch for the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, prompting South Korea to express its “deep regrets.”
Mr Abe has not paid homage at the shrine since December 2013, when his visit sparked an international outcry and is expected to refrain from visiting the 150-year-old war memorial during its four-day autumn festival, which begins on Thursday.
The shrine, a source of friction with neighbouring countries such as China and South Korea, honours the spirits of Japan's 2.46 million war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II.
Mr Seiichi Eto, the minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, offered prayers at the shrine on Thursday morning, becoming the first minister to do so in two and a half years.
South Korea expressed its “deep regrets over the fact that Japanese government and parliamentary leaders again sent offerings or visited the Yasukuni Shrine that glorifies Japan’s history of wars of invasion,” Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Yonhap News agency.
“Japan can contribute to the future-oriented development of South Korea-Japan relations and gain trust from neighbouring countries and the international community only when Japan’s responsible leaders show humble reflection on the past through action,” the ministry added.
The two countries’ relations have been worsening since Japan imposed restrictions on South Korea-bound shipments of materials used in semiconductors and smartphone production. Then, Tokyo decided to downgrade South Korea’s trading status the following month.
Japan’s actions came after South Korea’s Supreme Court in October ordered Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labour during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Visits by Japanese political leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine invite the anger of neighbouring countries, especially China and South Korea, which consider the site to be glorifying Japan’s wartime aggression.
Dozens of Japanese lawmakers are expected to visit the site during the festival.