China and South Korea criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for defending his visit to a controversial shrine last December. Abe, while speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, justified his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that commemorates wartime dead in Japan, including several Class A war criminals. The visit has further strained Japan’s relations with both countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang, however, saw the shrine as something else – a memorial to the “Nazis” of Asia. Speaking to the press, he said, “The Yasukuni Shrine is a spiritual tool and symbol of Japan’s militarism.” Choi Tai Young, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson seconded saying, “I have repeatedly mentioned here about what kind of facility the Yasukuni Shrine is.” Further stating that, “It’s totally contradictory to talk about forging friendly ties with South Korea while continuing visits to the shrine.” Both countries believe that the shrine symbolizes Japan’s past military aggression during World War II, and Abe’s visit shows indifference towards his neighbors. Abe, on the other hand, maintains that there is “tremendous misunderstanding” over his visit, as it was done to pledge “an oath never to wage war again,” while repeatedly calling for restraint for “military expansion in Asia.”
Both Foreign Ministry representatives remain doubtful of the genuineness of Abe’s pledge. Qin lambasted Abe on his actions, which show an unapologetic stance over Japan’s past military aggression. He said that, “only by implementing the spirit of the Murayama statement, Japan can win the trust of other countries.” He continued to predict that “if Japanese leaders act willfully in the wrong way, Japan will be directed on the path of harming Asia, the world and Japan itself.” Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued the famous statement on August 15, 1995 as a public apology for his nation’s past militarism and colonial rule. “Japanese political leaders, including the prime minister, should not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and that’s the starting point for friendly relations between South Korea and Japan and for stability in the region,” said Cho.