More than 160 Japanese lawmakers have visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates the country's war dead, including convicted war criminals. The shrine visit has raised tensions with China and South Korea.
Tuesday's trip en masse by parliamentarians to the war shrine came on the heels of a weekend visit by Japanese cabinet ministers, sparking ire in China and South Korea. Both Beijing and Seoul view the shrine as a symbol of Tokyo's aggression during the Second World War.
The Yasukuni Shrine commemorates Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including 14 high-ranking officials convicted as war criminals by the Allies. Although the visit to the shrine by Japanese officials is an annual event to mark the spring festival, more than twice as many lawmakers visited this year compared to last, according to Reuters news agency.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not personally visit the shrine, sending a religious ornament in his stead. However Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and two other ministers visited the memorial over the weekend. In response, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se cancelled his first trip Japan this week.
"It is natural for lawmakers to worship at a shrine for people who died for the nation and every nation does this," Hidehisa Otsuji, a ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) lawmaker who chairs the parliamentary group behind the visit, told Reuters news agency.
"I don't understand why we get a backlash," he said.
Tensions high in East China Sea
The visit to the shrine comes amid a period of heightened nationalist tensions in East Asia, as China, Japan and South Korea butt heads over unresolved territorial disputes.
On Tuesday, a flotilla of 10 boats carried some 80 Japanese nationalists into territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Japanese coastguard was following the flotilla.
"This is all about asserting our ownership of the islands, going there to conduct a fishing survey to prove that Japanese fishermen can indeed make a living there," Satoru Mizushima, the leader of the flotilla, told Reuters news agency.
Eight Chinese surveillance ships had also entered the waters near the Senkaku on Tuesday. Although the Senkaku were nationalized by Japan last September, China has staked its own claim the islands, calling them the Diaoyu.
"It is extremely deplorable and unacceptable that Chinese government ships are repeatedly entering Japanese territorial waters," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday.
slk/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)