Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, hoping to appease conservative supporters without closing the door on a hoped-for summit meeting with China’s leader, refrained from visiting a controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Friday, the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II, sending a cash offering instead.
Some 80 Japanese politicians, including three members of Mr. Abe’s cabinet, did visit Yasukuni, the large shrine in central Tokyo that honors the nation’s war dead, including convicted war criminals. But in an apparent attempt to avoid angering China as well as South Korea, Mr. Abe did not join them, despite calls from right-wing supporters for him to pay respects by doing so.
Instead, Mr. Abe sent an aide with the donation, which Mr. Abe signed as president of the Liberal Democratic Party and not in his public capacity as prime minister. The offering continues a pattern of sending gifts to the shrine instead of paying actual visits that Mr. Abe has largely followed since taking office in December 2012 amid concerns that his nationalistic views on history might isolate Japan in the region.
The one time Mr. Abe did visit Yasukuni, in December, brought strong reactions not only from China and South Korea, two victims of Japan’s early-20th-century empire building, but also from the United States, Japan’s postwar protector. The Obama administration saw the visit as undermining its efforts to get Japan and South Korea, America’s two main Asian allies, to present a united front in the face of regional challenges like an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
However, the show of restraint by Mr. Abe may not have been enough. The governments of China and South Korea both criticised the ministers’ visit, with China calling it a sign that Japan still does not fully feel remorse for its wartime aggression.
“Sino-Japanese relations can develop in a healthy and stable way only if Japan can face up to and reflect on the history of invasion and make a clear break with militarism,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in an online statement, according to The Associated Press.
It remains to be seen whether the Chinese reaction will be strong enough to derail recent diplomatic steps to ease tensions between the two nations, which are locked in disputes over history and territory. These steps include overtures by Mr. Abe to arrange a summit meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who has so far refused to meet Mr. Abe.
Last week, the foreign ministers of Japan and China met on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Myanmar for the first time since Mr. Abe became prime minister. Local news media reports said the ministers discussed a new initiative by Mr. Abe to meet with Mr. Xi at an economic summit meeting to be held in November in Beijing.
The Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, also held talks in Myanmar with Yun Byung-se, his South Korean counterpart, to mend ties that have been similarly frayed by disputes over territory and history, particularly South Korean demands for new apologies to women forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war.
In a speech on Friday for the anniversary of Japan’s surrender, which South Korea celebrates as the end of Japanese colonial rule, President Park Geun-hye criticised Japanese politicians for taking actions that drive the two nations further apart.
The top Japanese government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, defended Friday’s visit by saying that it was natural for politicians to honour those who gave their lives for their country.
The comment underscored the differing perceptions in Asia of the shrine, which many Japanese conservatives say is a memorial to the war dead not unlike Arlington National Cemetery. In China and South Korea, however, the shrine is seen as a symbol of unrepentant Japanese militarism, largely because it honours the souls of all of modern Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals.Source: New York Times – With Eye on China, Japanese Premier Skips War Shrine
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