China summons Japanese ambassador over war shrine visit

China has summoned Japan‘s ambassador in Beijing to protest against Friday’s visit to a controversial war shrine by more than 150 Japanese politicians, including a cabinet minister.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters in Beijing the ministry had issued a “solemn protest” and “strong condemnation” of the pilgrimage to Yasukuni shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including several class-A war criminals.

The visit, made during the shrine’s autumn festival, was “a blatant attempt to whitewash Japanese militarism’s history of aggression and to challenge the outcomes of the second world war and the postwar international order”, Hua said. “China is resolutely opposed to that.”

Friday’s visit comes days after the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, indicated he would not visit the site this year in an apparent attempt to ease tensions with China and South Korea. He instead sent a ritual offering of a sacred tree branch earlier this week.

Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a dispute over ownership of the Senkakus – known as the Diaoyu in China – a group of islets in the East China Sea. The territorial row deepened after Japan bought three of the five islets from their private owners just over a year ago.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have been overshadowed by a dispute over sovereignty of the Takeshima islands, known by South Koreans as Dokdo, and conflicting views on Japan’s used of Korean sex slaves before and during the second world war.

Japan’s internal affairs minister, Yoshitaka Shindo, said he had visited Yasukuni on Friday in a private capacity to remember his grandfather, who died in the battle for Iwo Jima.

“I visited in a private capacity to pay homage to those who died in the war and to pray for peace,” Shindo said. “I don’t think it will develop into a diplomatic issue.”

Other visitors included the deputy chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, who said it was “only natural to pray for the repose of the souls of people who have given their precious lives for the nation”.

China and South Korea view Yasukuni as a potent symbol of Japanese militarism, and visits there by politicians as evidence that Japan has yet to atone for atrocities it committed in Asia during the first half of the 20th century.

South Korea voiced regret over Abe’s offering. “Our government cannot help but express deep concerns and regret over [his] offering to Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies its past wars of aggression and honours war criminals,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in Seoul.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman stopped short of mentioning Abe directly, saying: “We again ask Japan to seriously contemplate its history of aggression, and to sincerely respect the feelings of China and other victimised countries.”

Abe has said he regretted not visiting Yasukuni during his previous term as prime minister from 2006-07, although he went last year while in opposition. No serving Japanese leader has paid his respects at Yasukuni since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.

Abe has not held formal talks with the Chinese and South Korean leaders since taking office last December.

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China summons Japanese ambassador over war shrine visit
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