Japan defence minister visits Yasukuni war shrine

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TOKYO: Japan’s hawkish defence minister prayed on Thursday at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo the day after accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a symbolic visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbor, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea.
Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism from countries such as South Korea and China, which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Tomomi Inada’s visit was her first since taking the key defence portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.
“By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world,” she told reporters.
She noted that Barack Obama — “the president of a country that dropped atomic bombs” — had gone to Hiroshima earlier this year, while Abe “voiced words to console the spirits of the dead” at Pearl Harbor, though she did not mention that Japan attacked it.
Inada made the pilgrimage the day after, in Japan time, Abe and Obama’s joint visit to the site of the Japanese military’s December 7, 1941 air assault on the navy base in Hawaii that drew the United States into World War II.
Inada is a close confidante of Abe, who said on a golf course that he had “no comment” on her action.
The visit, which Jiji Press and Nippon TV reported appeared to be the first by a defence chief since 2002, drew the ire of China and South Korea.
It is “deeply ironic after the so-called Pearl Harbor reconciliation tour”, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
“It will only make the people of the world more on-guard against Japan’s actions and intentions.” South Korea summoned a senior official from the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest.
“Our government cannot but deplore” the visit, foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-Hyuck said in a statement, while in separate comments the defence ministry expressed “grave concern and regret”.
The move by Inada, who holds staunchly nationalist views, was an attempt to appease the government’s conservative base after Abe’s conciliatory gesture to the US, analysts said.
“As Ms Inada was present at Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Hawaii, she wiped off some — if not all — of her reputation as a revisionist,” said Tetsuro Kato, emeritus professor of Japanese politics at Hitotsubashi University.
“But she also had to address frustrations from right-wingers among her supporters,” he said. Koichi Nakano, professor of politics at Sophia University and a vocal Abe critic, said Inada’s decision to go to Yasukuni was not a rogue act.
“Yasukuni is not a normal Shinto shrine,” he said. “Naturally, she went with Mr Abe’s blessing.”
The conservatism of Inada, a member of parliament from western Japan’s Fukui prefecture, is well known.
She wrote in 2011 that Japan — the only country in the world to suffer atomic bomb attacks — should consider acquiring nuclear weapons.
In August, after becoming defence minister, she said that Japan “should not consider arming itself with nuclear weapons at this moment”. — AFP