As the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II is commemorated, the controversial Yasukuni Shrine – Japan’s memorial to its war dead – again comes to the fore, as most of Japan’s neighbors feel that the respect the Japanese show to the war-time dead is a slight to their history and sufferings at that time. This is mostly because the shrine also honors, among others, convicted World War II war criminals that South Korea and China find offensive. On August 15, two South Korean lawmakers made it a point to make a protest near the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to voice out their criticism of what they termed as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “return to militarism”.
Despite the danger of coming into contact with many Japanese nationalist and patriotic groups who were in the area to pay their tribute at the shrine, Lee Sang-min and Moon Byeong-ho, both members of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party, wanted to make sure that their protest was heard. The lawmakers had initially planned to do their protest inside the shrine, but they were urged to exercise a bit of self-restraint by both Tokyo and Seoul. So they took their place on a street 500 meters away from the shrine, and unfurled a banner that read: “We protest the Abe administration’s militarism. Bereaved families of the Asia-Pacific War are also victims of the war.” As they talked to the press that covered their protest, the Korean lawmakers warned that what the Abe administration is doing right now is damaging Japan-South Korea relations.
Earlier that day, cabinet ministers had come to pay their respects, while Prime Minister Abe chose not to visit the shrine personally, but sent a representative to make an offering on his behalf. Even as Abe tried to mitigate the effects of this controversy by not appearing at the shrine personally, his offering still angered China. Beijing even questioned the sincerity of Abe’s quest to improve relations between the two countries. Beijing still considers paying respects to war criminals unacceptable, and Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has lodged a formal protest regarding the visit of over 100 government officials, including two cabinet members, to the controversial shrine as the anniversary of the Japanese surrender was commemorated.