Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, creating tension in China and South Korea, both victims of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Abe is the first Japanese prime minister to pay his respects at this shrine since Junichiro Koizumi did it in 2006. The shrine was built in the memory of Japan’s war dead, including war criminals that were executed after World War II.
Previous visits of prime ministers to the shrine created tensions in both China and South Korea and Japanese politicians had stayed away from the shrine during the past years, as Japan has tried to improve its relations with the two countries.
After finishing his visit, Abe expressed frustration that the shrine still provoked such controversy. He said that he had paid his respects not just to those who gave their lives serving Japan, but to fallen soldiers around the world.
He added that it was normal for any national leader to honor the war dead, and that he had prayed for peace.
“Japan must never wage war again,” Abe said, according to the international press. “This is my conviction based on severe remorse for the past. It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people.”
“The Chinese government expresses its strong indignation that Japanese leaders brutally trample the feelings of the Chinese and other Asian peoples victimized in wars,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said as a reaction.
South Korea also condemned Abe’s visit to the shrine. “Our government cannot help but deplore and express anger over the fact that Prime Minister Abe ignored the concerns and warnings of the neighboring countries and the world community and paid respect at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies Japan’s colonial rule and war of aggression,” Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong said.
The United States also criticized Abe’s visit.
“Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said.