Even when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to be trying his best to tread lightly around the controversial Yasukuni shrine, his choice to just send an offering rather than to visit shrine on its annual autumn festival still elicited reactions from Asian neighbors South Korea and China. While Seoul chose to continue on its traditional rhetoric and blasted the Japanese premier’s act of offering to the shrine, China has taken a rather softer stance, with its state-run news elements choosing to handle the issue as a straight news item.
“Our government can’t help but express deep concerns and regrets over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sending an offering to Yasukuni Shrine which glorifies past war aggression and enshrines war criminals,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young told a press briefing. These official remarks from Seoul came after Abe sent an offering to the shrine in his capacity of prime minister earlier on Thursday. “We once again urge Japanese politicians to do a humble reflection on the past history to receive trust from neighboring countries and the international community,” Cho added.
China, on the other hand, reacted relatively calmly on Thursday to Abe’s latest ritual offering to the controversial shrine in Tokyo. The state-run Xinhua News Agency did not dispatch an urgent story on Abe’s offering, but rather reported the issue in a matter-of-fact way, treating it as a regular news item. The same could be said of the state-owned China Central Television. This situation stands in stark contrast to the China’s reaction to Abe’s shrine offering on from Aug. 15, the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, where Beijing had made it sufficiently clear that it did not look kindly upon Abe’s act then. Some political analysts say that China’s softening of its stance could be seen as a continuation of its desire to finally mend bilateral relations with Japan, which has currently been strained by territorial and historical issues.
Abe has been careful around the Yasukuni issue, with the premier choosing not to personally visit the shrine since returning to power last December, and declining to comment on his intentions. While Yasukuni Shrine is meant to honor all of Japan’s war dead, the fact that it also contains the remains of convicted war criminals contributes to it being seen by Japan’s Asian neighbors – particularly South Korea and China – as a symbol of the country’s wartime acts. On this particular incident, Abe paid 50,000 yen (about US$500) for a “masakaki” tree offering traditionally used in Shinto rituals, according to sources close to the prime minister and the shrine.