Japan protests China memorial to Korean assassin as ties fray

TOKYO Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:27am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Monday protested against a Chinese memorial to a Korean who assassinated a Japanese official over a century ago, branding him a terrorist and saying the move did not help repair deteriorating ties.

China's ties with Japan have long been colored by what Beijing considers Tokyo's failure to atone for its brutal occupation of parts of the country and what it sees as whitewashing of atrocities in school textbooks.

The memorial honors Ahn Jung-geun, who in 1909 killed Hirobumi Ito, a former top Japanese official in Korea, which at that time was occupied by Japan.

Ito was killed in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, the site of the memorial, and Ahn was convicted and executed in 1910.

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Monday that Japan would protest the move through diplomatic channels.

"The coordinated move by China and South Korea based on a one-sided view (of history) is not conducive to building peace and stability" in East Asia, Suga said.

"The move is truly regrettable as we had made our stance and our concerns clear to the Chinese and South Korean governments."

China's official Xinhua news agency said the memorial, unveiled on Sunday, was a peaceful gesture.

"People have cherished the memory of Ahn for the past century. Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace-loving people all over the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war," Xinhua quoted Sun Yao, vice governor of Heilongjian province, as saying at the opening ceremony.

Ahn is seen in Korea as a symbol of the fight against Japanese colonial rule. Ito served four terms as Japanese prime minister and is viewed as a key architect of its first constitution.

China's ties with Japan have deteriorated over the last year due to a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea, China's setting up of an air defense identification zone and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honored along with war dead.

Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from 1910 to 1945.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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