Japan PM Shinzo Abe visits Yasukuni WW2 shrine

 

Shinzo Abe's visit will make relations with China worse, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

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Japan's prime minister has infuriated China and South Korea by visiting a shrine that honours Japan's war dead, including some convicted war criminals.

Shinzo Abe said his visit to Yasukuni was an anti-war gesture.

But China called the visit "absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people", and Seoul expressed "regret and anger".

They see Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo's aggression during World War Two, when Japan occupied large parts of China and the Korean peninsula.

The US embassy in Tokyo said in a statement it was "disappointed" and that Mr Abe's actions would "exacerbate tensions" with Japan's neighbours.

Yasukuni Shrine

  • Built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji
  • Venerates the souls of 2.5m war dead
  • Those enshrined include hundreds of convicted war criminals, among them executed war-time leader Hideki Tojo
  • Shrine organisers stress that many thousands of civilians are honoured
  • China and South Korea see shrine as glorification of Japanese atrocities

China, Japan and South Korea are embroiled in a number of disputes over territory in the East China Sea.

'Major obstacle'

It was the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006.

Mr Abe, who took office a year ago, entered the shrine on Thursday morning, wearing a morning suit and grey tie. His arrival was televised live.

"I chose this day to report [to the souls of the dead] what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war," he said.

"It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people."

Shinzo Abe (2nd L) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26 Shinzo Abe is the first prime minister to visit the shrine for seven years
Visitors hang fortune blessing papers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo December 26 Woman and children who have died in 150 years of war are among 2.5 million people honoured
A policeman stands guard at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo December 26 The enshrining of hundreds of WW2 criminals in the 1970s made the shrine hugely controversial

Officials said Mr Abe visited the shrine in a private capacity and was not representing the government.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We strongly protest and seriously condemn the Japanese leader's acts.

"This poses a major political obstacle in the improvement of bilateral relations. Japan must take responsibility for all the consequences that this creates."

Analysis

If the shrine is so offensive to China and South Korea why did Mr Abe go?

Firstly, because he wanted to. Close observers of the Japanese prime minister say he is at heart a nationalist and a historical revisionist.

He believes the trials that convicted Japan's wartime leaders were "victors' justice".

His own grandfather Nobusuke Kishi served in the war cabinet and was arrested by the Americans on suspicion of being a Class A war criminal. He was later released without charge.

But the stain of association with Japan's war crimes in China never completely went away.

Secondly, Mr Abe's support base comes from the right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party.

According to Professor Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo, Mr Abe is "showing he is a tough guy", that he is not afraid of China. It is something that plays very well to his base.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says Japan made an unwritten agreement with China in the 1970s that serving leaders would not visit the shrine.

Mr Abe appears to have broken that deal, our correspondent says.

In August, Mr Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine but was not among a group of dozens of Japanese politicians who visited Yasukuni.

During an earlier period in office between 2006-2007 he said he would not even discuss visiting the shrine "as long as the issue remains a diplomatic problem".

Yasukuni commemorates some 2.5 million Japanese men, women and children who have died in wars.

But the souls of hundreds of convicted WW2 criminals are also enshrined there.

Fourteen so-called Class A criminals - those who were involved in planning the war - are among those honoured. They include war-time leader General Hideki Tojo, who was executed for war crimes in 1948.

Mr Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was minister of industry for much of the war. He was arrested after Japan's surrender but was never charged and went on to serve as prime minister.

 

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  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 30.

    For the Chinese, WW2 started in 1931 with Japanese invasion. From then until 1945 they suffered immeasurable cruelty. Then it was the rest of East Asia's turn, then it was the Western powers forces and civvie expat prisoners to suffer.

    All this brought about by Japan's arrogant assumption that they were some sort of master race destined to subjugate the rest of Asia.

    Just like Hitler.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 23.

    It is not just the visit to the shrine that gets China/Korea backs up, it is also the fact that teaching of Japanese history in Japan is like Germany refusing to acknowledge its Nazi past & the attrocities it afflicted.

    Japan still largely refuses to acknowledge & actually misinforms students/young of so much of the attrocitys Japan afflicted upon others

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 37.

    The difference between the crimes the British did and the Japanese is that we admit our past faults. We don't institutionally deny it. I don't think for a second that countries should deviate into shame because that bring its own problems. However, recognition of the past is in itself progression so that these incidents never happen again.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 47.

    No one is saying that people in Japan should be held accountable for crimes they didn't commit. However, Japan clearly hasn't accepted and come to terms with its past history. Their governments comments and airbrushing of Nanking show how deeply rooted national denial is. What the Japanese did to Korea and China in WW2 was appalling and their denial impacts relations today.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 39.

    Japan, unlike Germany, has never accepted its culpability for the horrendous crimes committed in its name during WW2. They have intentionally airbrushed their crimes from a new generation of Japanese. The actions of its current Prime Minister, whose own family have questions to answer about their involvement in War Crimes, is a deliberate intent to provoke China for his own political aims.

 

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