Seoul cancels summit over Yasukuni visits

Foreign minister to stay put after Cabinet ministers honor war dead


South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se has canceled his scheduled trip to Japan this week, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Monday in the wake of controversial visits by members of the Cabinet to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

An official said the visits to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo, which is widely viewed as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, took place against Seoul’s wishes and has soured the atmosphere for bilateral talks.

Yun, who had planned to hold his first bilateral talks with counterpart Fumio Kishida during a two-day visit to Tokyo from Friday, abandoned the plan after the visit by three ministers to Yasukuni over the weekend and a ritual offering — but no trip — to the shrine by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe made an offering of a “masakaki” tree, traditionally used in Shinto religious rituals, with his name written below his title of prime minister.

On Monday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing “deep concerns and regrets” over the shrine visits by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo.

“Our government strongly urges the Japanese government to immediately halt anachronistic acts oblivious to the past history and take responsible measures based on the correct recognition of the history to recover trust from neighboring countries,” it said.

South Korean media, quoting a senior government official in Seoul, reported later in the day that it was Aso’s shrine visit in particular that immediate caused Yun’s cancellation.

Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni, which enshrines convicted World War II Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s other war dead, have triggered diplomatic disputes with China and South Korea, both of which were invaded by the Japanese military during the war.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said South Korea has not officially notified Japan of the cancellation. Although the bilateral foreign ministerial meeting was under preparation, “the date had not been fixed,” he said.

Japan’s top government spokesman said that, as he believes the three ministers visited the shrine in a “private capacity,” the government will not place any restrictions on such visits as they are a spiritual matter.

Furuya mixed his comments, saying he was visiting both privately and publicly.

“Every country has its own stance (on such matters) and I believe the differences in stance should not affect diplomatic relations,” Suga said.

Despite a shared concern over North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests and its bellicose war threats, relations between Seoul and Tokyo have remained chilly since last August when then-President Lee Myung Bak made an unprecedented visit to a pair of disputed islets it administers in the Sea of Japan, prompting Tokyo to recall its ambassador from Seoul in protest.

At the time, Lee said his visit to the South Korean-controlled islets — known in Japan as Takeshima and in South Korea as Dokdo — was intended to pressure Japan to address grievances stemming from its harsh 1910-1945 attempt to colonize the Korean Peninsula, and the issue of Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the war.

Under Japanese rule, Koreans were banned from using their own language at schools and were forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of them were mobilized as forced laborers.

Yun and Kishida had been expected to discuss strategies to defuse the heightened tension on the Peninsula, as well as the timing of a trilateral summit involving South Korea, Japan and China.

The three countries have held such summits every year since 2008. As host of this year’s trilateral summit, South Korea had been trying to arrange it for late May in Seoul.

But a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said last Wednesday that “hopes of a May summit are dashed” due to China’s call for a postponement, citing its territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

As a result, a foreign ministers’ meeting among the three Asian titans, which normally precedes the trilateral summit by about a month, is unlikely to be held this month as originally considered.

  • The best person to get those 2 to solve their problems would be a foreigner who knows both nations’ recent history and is not emotionally involved.
    I know why the shrine visits are controversial to South-Korea, but cancelling a summit over it? That’s wrong. Over 2 million dead are enshrined there. You can’t expect officials not to make a visit. On the other hand, it would be wiser for the minister not to visit the shrine close to a summit, just to evade controversy. Japan and South Korea really should work better together. What they need is a history summit to settle those things first.

  • Taylor Gregg

    Korea cannot be allowed to dictate Shinto shrine activity, regardless of the history. Such outside interference is really unthinkable

    • Shaun

      Taylor, have heard history repeat itself. This is not about Korea dictating.

  • J

    More people need to know more about Yasukuni Shrine. Look it up before making a fuss about Japanese lawmakers paying their respects there. Yes, that’s you – China and South Korea!

  • Klaus D. Orth

    In my personal opinion, there is no “private or public” visit to Yasukuni – at least not for high-ranking government officials! The ones concerned should be a little more sensitive – consider the feelings of others! It is the same as if a German government official went to the burial site of lets say Rudolf Hess or some other high ranking Nazi war criminal.

    • Not really an apt comparison given that Yasukuni is not solely the burial site of those involved in one particular conflict.

      It’s more like somebody cancelling a summit with America because a president visited Arlington Cemetery and they happen to disagree with some of the related conflicts.

      • Hank Lu

        It’s hardly the same, last time I checked Arlington did not bury any Class A war criminals. There are 14 Class-A war criminals and 1068 Class-B & C war criminals in Yasukuni.

    • Sasori San

      It’s not quite the same thing actually, Yasukuni is a memorial for ALL of Japans ‘war dead’,from ALL of it’s wars, so if a politicians distant relative was an ordinary soldier or sailor who died in the Japan Russian war of 1900 for instance,are you saying they can’t pay their respects? The trouble with Yasukuni is that war criminals are enshrined there.

      • Shuami

        The thing is–why are those class-A war criminals ended up there at the Yasukuni? And now since this such a sensitive issue, why can these war criminals be moved out of the Yasukuni? The Japanese can visit and pay respect to the war dead as much as they want, as long as these war criminals are not in there. Anybody with some political sense knows the political implication of these Shrine visits.

  • KenjiAd

    With all due respect, in my opinion, there is some serious misunderstanding about what the Yasukuni Shrine is.

    First of all, the Yasukuni is by no means equivalent to the Arlington national cemetery, because the shrine isn’t the cemetery; there’s nothing buried there. Real tombstones of the war dead are located elsewhere, most likely in temples of the villages or towns where the soldiers came from.

    Yasukuni is the place to ‘enshrine’ those who died for the Emperor. This is one of the newest shrines, made by the order of the Meiji Emperor.

    The meaning of the word ‘enshrine’ needs clarification. Yasukuni lists a dead Imperial soldier as a ‘kami’ which loosely means ‘a sacred soul or spirit’ in English. That’s what ‘enshrinement at Yasukuni’ means. These soldiers died for the Emperor, believing that they would become a ‘kami’ after they died.

    Let me put this way. A solider of Japan’s Self-Defense Force would not get into the Yasukuni even if he died in duty, because he wasn’t dying for the Emperor. It’s not going to happen, unless Japan adapts Imperial system again.

    So please remember this: Yasukuni is closely linked to the post-Meiji Imperial system of Japan. Yasukuni is not just a regular shrine honoring the war dead. It was an instrument by the Imperial Japan to glorify the death of anyone who died for the Emperor.

    Once you understand this point, I hope you also understand why visit to this particular shrine by government officials would ruffle the feathers of Japan’s Asian neighbors. Rightly so IMO.

    Does the Yasukuni visit means that Japan is again heading towards militarism? No, I don’t think so. But it does mean that nationalistic sentiment is rising, at the same time resistance to the unfortunate path Japan took 70 years ago seems to be waning.