A Chinese memorial to a South Korean national hero was unveiled at the Harbin railway station on Monday. The memorial was in honor of Ahn Jung-geon, an anti-Japanese freedom fighter who killed Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first Prime Minister, in 1909. Ito was the one who signed the Eulsa Treaty, formalizing the annexation of the Korean Peninsula to Japan.
Ahn is a famous hero in Korea for killing Ito and other top officials in 1909. However, he is branded as a “criminal” and “terrorist” by the Japanese government and he was hanged the year after the assassination. The current Japanese government is strongly opposed to the erection of the monument in honor of him. When word of the construction of the monument by China and South Korea was announced last November, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denounced the move, saying that it would “not be good for relations between Japan and South Korea.” China defended its action and the Vice Governor of Heilongjiang Province, Sun Yao, said during the unveiling that the “people have cherished the memory of Ahn for the past century.” He also said, “Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace-loving people around the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war.”
The statement was an indirect criticism of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in December. The shrine, which honors wartime dead in Japan, has been a source of bitterness for the Chinese and South Koreans who see it as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression. Though Abe maintained that the visit was not intended to hurt Chinese and South Koreans and was done to show his “pledge to create an era where people will never suffer from catastrophe in war,” it still did not sit well with the two nations who openly criticized the act.
A commentary printed in the Xinhua newspaper argued that the “opening of Ahn’s memorial is not to inflict pain but to shed light on the history of northeastern Asia.” The article also went on to describe history as the “teacher of life” and warned other nations that “with Japan treading a dangerous path once again, the need for vigilance and a joint international effort is clear if we are to prevent a Japanese militarist resurgence.”
[via South China Morning Post]
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