Three Japanese cabinet ministers have visited a Tokyo war shrine that is seen by China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. The visit threatens to harm moves towards better bilateral ties.
Three members of Japan's Cabinet on Saturday made a pilgrimage to a Tokyo war shrine that is hated by China and South Korea, a move likely to dampen tentative moves toward warmer relations between Tokyo and Beijing.
The visit by three of the five women in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet came a day after a mass pilgrimage by parliamentarians to the Yasukuni Shrine drew a rebuke from China.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi (C. in above photo), who this week said she only wanted to pay her respects to those who have died in wars, on Saturday defended her decision as a personal one.
"The nature of the visit should not be a topic that leads to diplomatic issues," Takaichi told reporters.
Shrine of contention
The three ministers - Takaichi, National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani, and Haruko Arimura, who is in charge of female empowerment - are all known for their outspoken nationalist views.
The shrine could receive visits by more ministers this weekend as it celebrates its four-day autumn festival.
Visits by Japanese politicians to the Shinto shrine - which honors not only millions of war dead but also wartime leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals - anger China and North Korea, both of which suffered under Japanese occupation last century.
Japan occupied parts of China before and during World War II, and colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Prime Minister Abe last visited the shrine in December 2013, outraging Beijing and Seoul. He has since restricted himself to sending ritual offerings there on various occasions, including one on Friday that caused Beijing to express "serious concern" and Seoul to "deplore" the action.
This comes amid growing signs of a possible thaw in Sino-Japanese relations, which have been frozen for some time, among other things because of a territorial spat over disputed islands. On Friday, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang shook hands on the sidelines of an international gathering in Italy.
Japanese top officials have also said they are hoping Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold their first-ever summit during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in November.
tj/nm (Reuters, AFP)