By Elaine Lies
A Japanese cabinet minister and some 150 lawmakers on Tuesday visited Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, in a move that could further strain fraught regional ties.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to the shrine on Monday, just days before a Tokyo visit by US President Barack Obama, provoking an angry response from China and South Korea, which decried it as romanticizing Japan’s wartime past.
Internal Affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo, along with a close aide to Abe, paid their respects at Yasukuni, where 14 war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal are honoured along with the nation’s war dead, as part of the shrine’s annual spring festival that ends on Wednesday, the day Obama arrives.
“As this visit was my personal visit, I don’t believe that it will have any effect on the US President’s visit,” Shindo told reporters. A separate visit Shindo made to Yasukuni earlier this month prompted an angry response from China.
Abe made a December visit to the shrine which sparked widespread global anger, with key ally the United States saying it was “disappointed”. But this time Abe opted for an offering, and not a visit, aimed at pleasing his conservative supporters while trying to minimise international criticism.
Seiichi Eto, a special aide to Abe, told reporters that his visit and those of the lawmakers “should have nothing to do” with Obama’s visit.
“The government should not interfere with a shrine visit made by an individual, since that would infringe on their freedom of belief,” chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Tuesday.
“This is the fundamental thinking of the Abe government.”
Adding to unease in the region, a Chinese maritime court in Shanghai at the weekend seized a ship owned by Japanese shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, a move that Japan warned could have an adverse impact on its businesses in China.
The court said the company had failed to pay compensation stemming from a wartime contractual obligation. China’s Foreign Ministry said the disagreement was a normal commercial dispute.
Japan said the ship seizure, apparently the first time the assets of a Japanese company have been seized in a lawsuit concerning compensation for World War Two, was “extremely regrettable”.