Japanese PM visits Yasukuni shrine, pisses almost everyone off

By Jessica McGovern, December 31, 2013

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Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a war memorial has sparked international tension and received harsh criticism from Chinese state media.

Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine last Thursday, making him the first standing Japanese prime minister to do so since 2006. The shrine memorialises Japan’s 2.5 million wartime dead, among whom are 14 World War II Class A war criminals (responsible for, among other things, the mass murder of Chinese civilians in Nanjing and elsewhere).

It is against the Japanese pacifist constitution, imposed upon the country by the US and Allied forces after WWII, to enshrine Class A criminals. The shrine’s grounds are also home to a museum that controversially downplays Japanese atrocities during the war. One display describes the Rape of Nanjing as an ‘incident’.

Xinhua labelled the move a “grave provocation that may lead to heightened tension in the region.” In an editorial, the press agency linked Abe's visit to the ongoing spat over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. “The visit is a calculated provocation to stoke further tension,” the article said.

The Chinese foreign ministry has rejected Abe’s offer to discuss the controversial visit. They said China’s leaders will not talk to the Japanese prime minister. “Abe himself closes the door to dialogue with Chinese leaders. The Chinese people do not welcome him,” ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said.

South Korea's foreign minister has also announced that they will not hold any high level diplomatic or security talks with Tokyo at this time.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi initially summoned the Japanese ambassador to Beijing on Thursday after the incident. He described Abe’s pilgrimage as "a flagrant provocation against international justice" and said Japan needed to bear "full responsibility for the serious political consequences" of the visit.

After the incident South Korean Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong said: “our government cannot repress lamentation and rage over Abe's paying of respects at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies its colonial aggression and enshrines war criminals".

The US embassy in Japan also released a statement on Thursday: “the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbours."

The shrine visit came at a particularly tense time in East Asian relations. In November, China established an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large part of the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Japan, along with several other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, has defended its “freedom of overflight” and also announced increases in military spending for the first time in over a decade.

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