South Korea chided Japan for “retrograde comments and behaviors” Thursday, days after Japanese government ministers and a host of lawmakers flocked to a politically sensitive war shrine.
Japan “turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to excruciating loss and pain that Japan inflicted on neighboring countries through its aggression and colonial rule,” a South Korean vice minister told the Japanese ambassador Thursday, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. South Korea, “which intends to build a bright future together with Japan, finds it profoundly regrettable.”
South Korean officials summoned the ambassador after scores of lawmakers went Tuesday to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japanese war dead. Several government ministers had already visited the shrine last week, though the government said they did not go in an official capacity.
Among those honored at the Tokyo shrine are World War II leaders convicted of wartime atrocities, one reason Yasukuni is seen as an offensive symbol of Japanese militarism in China and South Korea. Infuriated, the South Korean foreign minister scrapped a planned trip to Japan this week. Dozens of outraged protesters burned an effigy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul.
Abe defended the visits to the site, saying government ministers were free to pay their respects. When asked about the apology that another prime minister once proffered for Japanese “colonial rule and aggression,” Abe reportedly said “aggression” depends on countries’ points of view.
His words also roiled China, where a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Thursday that if aggression and colonial rule are seen as a proud part of Japanese history, “there will be no future for Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbors,” according to the official New China News Agency.
Abe, known as a hawkish nationalist, has previously denied that South Korean women were forced into sexual servitude and suggested that Japan reconsider its apology for wartime suffering. Renewed disputes over wartime history have frayed Japan’s relations with China and South Korea at a time when analysts say cooperation is sorely needed to dial down threats by North Korea.
“It is North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons, that stands to gain from squabbling between Japan and South Korea,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry source told the Kyodo news agency. “The United States, our ally, must feel like asking what in the world Japan and South Korea are quarreling over.”
Japan has also been at odds with China and South Korea over disputed island territories, an issue that is expected to loom still larger with more nationalistic leaders in power across the region.