Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to a Tokyo war shrine and a group of lawmakers paid respects there today, sparking criticism from China even as he pushes for a summit with President Xi Jinping.
A cross-party group of 110 lawmakers visited Yasukuni Shrine today, upper house lawmaker Toshiei Mizuochi told reporters. Abe’s offering of a traditional “masakaki,” a leafy branch on a stand swathed in colorful cloth, was confirmed by a shrine spokesman. One minister said she would pay her respects separately at the shrine’s autumn festival, which starts today.
Abe’s donation to a shrine seen by many as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression in Asia comes as he seeks meetings with Xi and South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing next month. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso may hold talks with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang on the sidelines of a meeting of finance ministers in the Chinese capital next week, the Nikkei newspaper reported today, citing people it did not identify.
“China voices serious concern and strong opposition,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about the actions of Abe and the lawmakers. He urged Japan to “look at history squarely and honestly” and “break away from its militarist past.”
Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi said this week she would visit the shrine for the autumn festival. Yasukuni honors millions of Japanese war dead and 14 wartime leaders convicted as Class A War criminals after the war.
Abe hasn’t met Xi since taking office in December 2012 as ties between Asia’s two largest economies frayed over territorial and historical issues.
In December last year, Abe became the first sitting prime minister to visit the shrine since 2006, a move that drew a rebuke from China.
Upper house lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji, a member of the lawmakers’ group, told reporters today it’s Abe’s own decision as to whether he pays a visit. Praying for the war dead is something people in any nation do, he said.
“As long as Abe and any of the key ministers don’t go, Yasukuni will not be a roadblock to summit meetings,” Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, said by e-mail. “Abe doesn’t want to be seen to be kowtowing to Beijing to get a meeting, but also doesn’t want to derail that possibility given that it seems to be a done deal.”
Abe will probably go to the site again while in office, though he may wait until after he travels to China next month to avoid jeopardizing the prospect of a meeting with Xi, Koichi Hagiuda, a lower house lawmaker who has delivered donations from Abe to the shrine on anniversaries of the end of World War II, said in an interview last month.