Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, paid a visit Sunday to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine as it kicked off its spring festival, tempting the ire of Japan’s neighbors.
Aso, who doubles as finance minister, bowed at the worship hall and left without responding to questions from reporters.
The former prime minister is the third member of the Cabinet known to have visited the Tokyo shrine since nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the shrine on Saturday, saying it was a private visit.
Furuya, however, told reporters Sunday in alternate responses that he was visiting the shrine in a “private capacity” and in his official capacity as a member of the Cabinet.
Neither, however, are likely to deflect international criticism with such excuses.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato also visited the shrine in the morning and told Kyodo News that he was there in a “private capacity.”
Abe apparently opted to avoid further angering China and South Korea by dedicating a “masakaki” to Yasukuni with his name and formal title written on it and will refrain from visiting during the three-day festival, sources close to him said. Masakaki are decorated wooden sticks in which the wishes of the donor are believed to reside.
“It is natural for a lawmaker to offer heartfelt condolences for spirits of the war dead who sacrificed their lives for the nation,” Furuya said, adding he personally paid for a sacred tree branch he dedicated to the shrine during a Shinto ceremony.
Yasukuni, which served as the nation’s spiritual backbone during the war, honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with the war dead. It is viewed by China, South Korea and other countries who were invaded by Japan as a symbol of Japanese militarism.
Past visits by Japanese prime ministers to Yasukuni have drawn serious diplomatic repercussions from China and South Korea, both of which suffered dearly under Japan’s attempt to take over Asia.
The Cabinet holds the position that it will not disclose whether its members have visited or plan to visit the shrine.
Members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers promoting visits to Yasukuni are set to visit the shrine Tuesday.
‘Safe’ from China’s nukes
China will never use nuclear weapons against Japan, Pang Sen, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department, said at the U.N. European headquarters here Friday.
While China has a policy of not making a first-strike nuclear attack, it is rare for a high-ranking Chinese government official to refer to a specific nation regarding its possible use of nuclear weapons.
China will never use nuclear weapons on nuke-free zones under any circumstance, Pang added.
As for issues related to North Korea, Pang said that the major problem is the lack of mutual trust.
Noting that since any increase in military force on one side usually generates fears on the other side, he said this creates a vicious circle that can escalate into a crisis situation.
Countries concerned should sit down and talk to each other, he added.
Expressing China’s support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Pang said that his country believes peaceful and diplomatic means must be used to find a solution to the problem.
Also on Friday, five members of the nuclear club — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — released a statement reflecting their concerns about the “serious challenges” posed to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime by the nuclear development programs of North Korea and Iran.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members released the statement ahead of a preparatory meeting starting Monday for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.