Japanese Cabinet minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Wednesday, in a move that is certain to fuel anger in China and South Korea, both of which suffered from Japanese war-time aggression.
The visit by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shindo on New Year’s Day came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to the Shinto shrine on Dec. 26, sparking sharp criticism from Japan’s Asian neighbors and disappointing the United States, Tokyo’s closest ally.
After praying at the shrine, Shindo told reporters the visit was to allow him to pay his respects to those who lost their lives in war, and to pray for peace.
“I don’t believe it will become a diplomatic issue,” he said.
Shindo visited Yasukuni Shrine at least three times last year including on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
The minister indicated late December that he would pay a visit to the shrine on New Year’s Day, saying it is natural to express respect to one’s seniors.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted Shindo’s move, saying, “We strongly protest the minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine,” and calling it “yet another provocative act” taken by a Japanese Cabinet member over history issues.
Shindo is a grandson of Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a lieutenant general in the former Japanese imperial army, who led Japanese forces during the fierce battle with U.S. forces on Iwoto Island at the near end of the World War II.
Asian countries, particularly China and South Korea, have urged Japanese leaders to refrain from visiting Yasukuni, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with millions of war dead.
In addition to Shindo, Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals, visited Yasukuni Shrine three times in 2013, administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada went there twice and Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister and finance minister, visited in April.
Despite strong criticism from China and South Korea, Abe said after his shrine visit on Dec. 26 that he has no intention to hurt the people of these countries.
Since returning to power in December 2012, Abe has yet to hold formal talks with Chinese and South Korean leaders due partly to territorial disputes and a divergent perception of history.
His recent visit to the war-linked shrine is widely seen as making it more difficult for Tokyo to improve its soured ties with Beijing and Seoul.