By Irene Wang and Elaine Lies TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minster Fumio Kishida vowed on the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender on Monday that his country would never again wage war, as members of his cabinet visited a shrine that honours war dead, angering South Korea and China. Japan’s ties with China were […]
Japan PM vows no more war; ministers visit shrine to war dead
By Irene Wang and Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minster Fumio Kishida vowed on the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender on Monday that his country would never again wage war, as members of his cabinet visited a shrine that honours war dead, angering South Korea and China.
Japan’s ties with China were already strained after China conducted unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan following the visit there by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi this month.
During the drills, several missiles fell in waters inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We will never again repeat the horrors of war. I will continue to live up to this determined oath,” Kishida told a secular gathering in Tokyo, also attended by Emperor Naruhito.
“In a world where conflicts are still unabated, Japan is a proactive leader in peace,” he said.
The anniversary of Japan’s surrender is traditionally also marked by visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by South Korea and China as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Yasukuni honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals, who are among some 2.5 million war dead commemorated there.
Visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine infuriate neighbours that suffered at the hands of Japan before and during World War Two.
Kishida, on the dovish side of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), faced a tricky balancing act, hoping to avoid irking neighbours while keeping happy the more right-wing members of the party – particularly after the killing of former premier Shinzo Abe last month.
Kishida sent an offering to the shrine without visiting, Kyodo news agency reported, as he did during recent festivals at the shrine.
But unlike his predecessor Yoshihide Suga, and Abe in 2020, Kishida made an oblique reference to Japan’s wartime actions, saying “the lessons of history are graven deeply on our hearts”.
Despite that, South Korea and China denounced the visits to the shrine.
In South Korea, officials expressed “deep disappointment” and regret.
“The Korean government is urging Japan’s responsible people to face history and show humble reflection and genuine reflection on the past through action,” a spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wengbin said Japan needed to deeply reflect on its history.
“Some Japanese political figures frequently distort and glorify the history of aggression in various ways, and openly violate the Cairo Declaration and other important legal documents that clearly provide for the return of Taiwan to China,” he told a briefing.
‘ISSUE FOR JAPANESE PEOPLE’
People of all ages packed the shrine to pay their respects despite the sultry heat. At noon, they bowed their heads for a moment of silence as cicadas buzzed.
“People from various countries may say things, but this is an issue of the Japanese people, so Japanese people need to decide themselves,” said Yukie Takahashi, a 60-year-old office worker.
“It’s a day to worship, to look back on the past, reflect on it and pray.”
Among those visiting the shrine were, as usual, a small but vocal group of right-wing activists, some dressed in military uniforms and bearing flags. Others released doves as a symbol of peace.
Footage on broadcaster NHK showed the shrine being visited early on Monday by several cabinet ministers, including Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, along with Koichi Hagiuda, the head of the LDP’s policy research council and a key Abe ally.
“It is natural for any country to pay respect to those who gave their lives for their country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said earlier.
“Japan will continue to strengthen its relations with its neighbours, including China and South Korea.”
Some lawmakers who normally visit together said last week they would not do so because of the coronavirus.
In 2013, Abe was the last prime minister in recent memory to visit Yasukuni while in office, a visit that outraged both China and South Korea and even drew a rebuke from close ally the United States.
The United States and Japan have become staunch allies in the decades since the war but the legacy of the conflict haunts East Asia.
Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula, while China has bitter memories of imperial troops’ invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945.
(Additional reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Josh Smith in Seoul and Eduardo Batista in Beijing; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and David Holmes)