Just being here has caused a political stir, but former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui upped the ante Thursday by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine to offer a prayer for his brother, who died while fighting for Japan in World War II.

China, which reviles Lee as a leader of the Taiwan independence movement, quickly blasted what Lee described as private visit to Yasukuni while criticizing Tokyo for allowing his entry into Japan.

“We can see what he has in mind by watching his activities in Japan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing, suggesting Lee’s shrine visit is an attempt to gain support from Japanese conservatives for Taiwan’s independence movement.

Prior to the visit, Lee told reporters in a Tokyo hotel that he was going to express his appreciation for Yasukuni having enshrined his brother and for protecting his soul.

“Please do not think about anything political or historical” regarding the shrine visit, Lee told the press.

His older brother was believed killed in Manila as a soldier from Taiwan, then under Japanese colonial rule.

Visits by Japanese political leaders to the Shinto shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead as well as Class-A war criminals, the main bone of contention, have touched off diplomatic rows with China.

Lee said that because his father never believed his son was killed in the war, the family kept no remains or an “ihai” memorial tablet at home. Yasukuni is the only place where a memorial tablet of him has been kept, Lee said, explaining the reason for his visit.

“I and my elder brother were very close. I haven’t seen him for 62 years, since we parted at Kaohsiung (in southern Taiwan),” Lee said. “(This Yasukuni visit) is entirely a family matter.”

On Thursday morning, TV camera crews and dozens of reporters, many apparently from China and Taiwan, were waiting for Lee when he arrived at the war shrine.

He entered the main building from a side entrance at 10 a.m. Writer Ayako Sono, a friend of Lee’s who accompanied him, said the 84-year-old Taiwan leader observed a moment of silence and bowed in the hall as requested by shrine priests.

Supporters of Lee, who was educated in Japan and led Taiwan from 1988 to 2000, shouted “banzai” when he arrived at the shrine’s massive, tree-lined complex. Some waved Hinomaru flags. Some shouted “Taiwan forever!”

During a speech later in the day, Lee said China is already facing a financial crisis from mounting nonperforming loans, a comparable situation to those that confronted Japan in the early 1990s and Southeast Asian economies later in the decade.

Bad loans held by Chinese national banks are equivalent to 40 percent to 60 percent of the gross national product, Lee said, noting Chinese monetary authorities failed to slow the overheated economy in 2006, due mainly to their failure to control local economies.

To regain control over local economies and buy more time for financial reforms, Beijing will try to keep removing powerful local officials under the cover of crackdowns on corruption, Lee predicted.

Information from AP, Kyodo added

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