Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said Saturday in Tokyo that China and South Korea have lashed out at Japanese leaders over Yasukuni Shrine mainly because of their own domestic political problems, and Japan should not let other countries intervene in honoring its war dead.

Lee, speaking in Japanese at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, also criticized the media for playing up and politicizing his “private” visit to the war-related shrine.

“Yasukuni issues have been made up just because China and Korea could not handle their own domestic problems. And Japan has been too weak (in reacting to the protests),” said the 84-year-old Lee, who led Taiwan from 1988 to 2000.

He did not elaborate on what domestic problems Beijing and Seoul are facing, but critics say Japan-related issues are often used in China and South Korea as a pretext to attack domestic political foes or as a means to distract public attention from other issues.

Yasukuni Shrine honors and enshrines dead Japanese soldiers and officers, serving as a spiritual pillar for veterans and relatives of the war dead. It is also widely regarded as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism as it enshrines Class-A war criminals. Lee went to the shrine Thursday to pray for his deceased older brother, who fought for Japan when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule.

Saturday was the final day of his 11-day stay in Japan. He described the trip as “successful,” saying it was designed for cultural and academic exchanges as well as retracing the footsteps of the noted 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho.

He added he wants to come back, saying this time he followed only half of the itinerary of Basho’s journey in the Tohoku region.

Another purpose was to gauge recent changes in traditions and behavior. Lee said he found that the Japanese people have retained their strong spiritual discipline to maintain order in society and praised the tradition of Japanese culture.

“(Japanese people) provide the best public services and keep (everything) as clean as possible. There even is no dirt on expressways,” he said.

As Lee wrapped up his trip at Narita airport later Saturday, a man hurled two plastic bottles containing liquid at him, but he was unhurt. The man, identified as a Chinese engineer, 34, currently living in Chiba, was taken into custody, police said.

Information from Kyodo added

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