On December 26, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni War Shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including World War II Class A criminals, signaling huge diplomatic repercussions.
Celebrating the first anniversary of Abe’s taking office, the visit to the shrine was the first by a Japanese prime minister since former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.
Abe said to reporters, “I have no intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese or the Korean people.”
Abe’s visit to the shrine has triggered strong reactions from Korea and China, which see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese wartime atrocities. Seoul and Beijing have continued to call on the Abe administration to face up to and reflect on its history of aggression.
In particular, Abe’s visit is escalating already-high tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. The relations between the two had already been strained following Tokyo’s continued territorial claims to Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.
The two countries were reportedly in discussion over a plan to hold vice foreign ministerial talks in an effort to arrange a summit between their state leaders.
The Korean government convened an emergency meeting on the same day to discuss a response. Lodging a protest, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun summoned the deputy chief of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Takashi Kurai. Further, the government is considering summoning the ambassador in Tokyo as well.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also lashed out at Abe, saying that Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine has infuriated both Seoul and Beijing, and taken Tokyo in a “dangerous direction.”
Wang on December 26 summoned the Japanese ambassador in Beijing, Masato Kitera, and lodged a “strong protest” against Abe’s visit to the shrine.
Wang said there, “The visit is not only a flagrant provocation of international justice, but also grossly tramples on human conscience,” adding, “Lessons from history must be learned. The international community, including China, must heighten its vigilance and never allow the clock of history to be turned back.”