South Korea minister shelves Japan visit over Yasukuni

Shinto priests walk in line to the main shrine during the three-day annual spring festival at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on 21 April 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Visits by lawmakers to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine anger Japan's neighbours

South Korea's foreign minister has cancelled a visit to Tokyo after top-level Japanese ministers visited a controversial war-linked shrine.

Two ministers, including Deputy PM Taro Aso, visited the Yasukuni Shrine on Sunday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not visit but made a ritual offering.

Seoul said a planned visit by Yun Byung-se later this week had been called off as a result.

The shrine commemorates Japan's war dead, including war criminals.

It is viewed by many of the country's neighbours as a reminder of Japan's military past. Visits to the shrine, in central Tokyo, by high-profile Japanese leaders anger China and the two Koreas.

In a statement, the South Korean foreign ministry criticised the visit.

The government "expresses deep regrets and concerns" over both the visits and Mr Abe's ritual offering to "the shrine that glorifies Japan's past aggressive wars", the statement said.

As well as Mr Aso, cabinet minister Keiji Furuya visited the shrine on Sunday, as did Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who is not part of the cabinet.

Mr Abe offered a "masakaki" decorated wooden stick, inscribed with his name and title, Kyodo News agency said.

"Amid this kind of atmosphere, our stance is that it will be difficult to hold a productive discussion and Yun decided not to visit Japan this time," an unidentified foreign ministry official told Yonhap news agency.

Japan's top government spokesman said the talks had been at the planning stage.

"The [meeting] was indeed being arranged but it's also true that nothing had been decided. As such, we have yet to be told anything concrete from the South Korean side," Yoshihide Suga said.

The officials visited the shrine "as private individuals", he said, adding that the issue should not "impact diplomacy".

Ties between the two neighbours have been chilly since last year, when a long-standing territorial row over islands both claim flared again.

The islands are called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

The visit to Japan would have been the first by the South Korean foreign minister since the new administration of Park Geun-hye took power earlier this year.

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