TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday defended a visit by his ministers to a controversial war shrine after protests by China and South Korea, which regard it as a symbol of wartime aggression, a report said.
Beijing and Seoul protested over weekend visits to the Yasukuni shrine by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and two other cabinet ministers.
On Tuesday, another 168 Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine in central Tokyo, which honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals.
"My ministers will not yield to any kind of intimidation," Mr Abe said during a session of parliament, Kyodo News agency reported.
"It's a matter of course to secure the freedom to express one's respect and worship to precious souls of the war dead."
Mr Abe added that one of his jobs was "to protect the pride (of the Japanese people) built on history and tradition and to protect national interests", Kyodo said.
His remarks came after South Korean President Park Geun Hye earlier on Wednesday warned Japan against shifting to the right and aggravating the "scars of the past" following the shrine visit.
"Japan should go harmoniously with the international community," Ms Park told a meeting of chief editors from major South Korean newspapers and broadcasters, according to the Yonhap news agency.
"If it leans to the right, relations with north-east Asia and other Asian countries will be in trouble.
"If (Japan) has a different perception of history and aggravates the scars of the past, it will be difficult to build future-oriented ties."
Beijing also protested against the visits, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying telling reporters that Japan must atone for its past behaviour.
"No matter in what capacity or form Japanese leaders visit Yasukuni shrine, in essence it is an attempt to deny Japan's history of aggression through militarism," she said on Tuesday.
"How Japan views history and deals with the Yasakuni shrine is an important benchmark for its Asian neighbours and the international community to observe and understand what role Japan will play in the future."
Mr Abe did not make a pilgrimage himself. But he has paid for equipment made of wood and fabric, bearing his name and title, which was used to decorate an altar.