BEIJING – China has unveiled a memorial to a Korean national hero who assassinated a Japanese official a century ago as Sino-Japanese relations hover at their lowest point in years.
In 1909, Ahn Jung-geun shot and killed Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister and its top official on the then-Japan-occupied Korean Peninsula, at a railway station in the northeast city of Harbin.
Ahn was hanged by Japanese forces the following year, when Korea also formally came under Japanese colonial rule.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Monday criticized the opening of the memorial.
“The coordinated move by China and South Korea based on a one-sided view (of history) is not conducive to building peace and stability” he said in Tokyo.
The memorial hall that opened Sunday at Harbin Railway Station honors Ahn, who is viewed as a hero in South Korea for his resistance against Japanese rule. Ahn shot Ito on Oct. 26, 1909.
The memorial got under way after South Korean President Park Geun-hye suggested erecting a monument to Ahn to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting last June.
“The move is truly regrettable as we had made our stance and our concerns clear to the Chinese and South Korean governments,” Suga said, adding Ahn was “a terrorist who received a death sentence.” He was executed in March 1910.
Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged protests by phone with ministers at both embassies in Tokyo.
Japan vehemently opposes the monument and has condemned Ahn as “a criminal,” but Chinese and South Korean officials hailed its construction and contend that it was intended not to provoke a diplomatic row, but to promote peace.
“People have cherished the memory of Ahn for the past century,” Sun Yao, the vice governor of China’s Heilongjiang province, said at the unveiling Sunday, China’s Xinhua News Agency said.
“Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace-loving people around the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war.”
Tensions with both China and South Korea were ratcheted up last month when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first sitting prime minister since 2006 to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe insisted that he had “no intention at all to hurt the feelings of Chinese or South Korean people” and that the aim of his visit was “to pledge to create an era where people will never suffer from catastrophe in war.”
In a commentary Sunday, Xinhua wrote that “the opening of Ahn’s memorial is not to inflict pain, but to shed light on the history of Northeastern Asia.”
“History is the teacher of life,” it said. “Alarm bells shall not go unheeded. With Japan treading a dangerous path once again, the need for vigilance and a joint international effort is clear if we are to prevent a Japanese militarist resurgence.”