SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s foreign minister canceled a trip to Japan on Monday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an offering to a shrine seen as a symbol of Japan’s former militarism, a South Korean government official said.
China also objected to Abe’s offering on Sunday to the Yasukuni shrine, where 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored, saying Japan had to face up to its past nationalistic aggression.
Abe, an outspoken nationalist, made a ritual offering of a pine tree to the shrine. He did not go there but two Japanese ministers and a deputy chief cabinet secretary did visit it on the weekend.
Such gestures upset Asian victims of Japan’s war-time aggression, including China and South Korea.
“We are disappointed,” said a South Korean government official.
“Through a diplomatic channel, we sent a message several times that we did not want any visit to the shrine before our minister’s trip,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had aimed to discuss the direction of relations with his Japanese counterpart during his planned visit, the official said.
“It is now almost impossible to have a constructive conversation,” the official said, referring to the decision to cancel the trip.
For Koreans, the shrine is a reminder of Japan’s brutal colonial rule from 1910-1945.
China, which also suffered under Japanese occupation, also takes offence when Japanese leaders pay their respects at the shrine.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Japan’s relations with its neighbors hinged on its acceptance of its history.
“Japan must face up to its history of nationalist aggression” and respect the feelings of victims, the Chinese spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told a daily news briefing.
“We believe that only when Japan attains a deep understanding of its past history can it open up its future and develop a cooperative relationship with other Asian countries,” she said.
In Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that final details of Yun’s visit had not been worked out. Visits to the shrine should not disrupt relations between Japan and its neighbors, he said.
“Each country has its own position. We should not let it affect diplomacy.”
Suga said the ministers’ visits to the shrine were private.
“Cabinet ministers paying visit as private individuals is their private conduct. The government refrains from commenting,” he said.
It is not clear how Abe made his offering.
China’s Global Times newspaper, published by the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, said the shrine gesture was evidence that Japan was “a troublemaker and provocateur among Asian countries”.
“This is yet another time that Japan has gone out of its way to manipulate Asian politics,” it said.
Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO and Sally Huang and Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel