TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to a shrine for war dead on Saturday, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War Two defeat, but did not visit the shrine, seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime militarism.
The premier sent a cash offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, his aide Koichi Hagiuda, a lawmaker in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), told reporters.
“I paid respects to the souls of those who sacrificed their precious lives in the past war,” Hagiuda said, adding he was visiting on behalf of Abe in the premier’s role as head of the LDP.
Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese top politicians outrage China and South Korea because the shrine honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead. Abe has not visited in person since December 2013.
Abe, in a statement on Friday, expressed “utmost grief” for the “immeasurable damage and suffering” Japan inflicted during World War Two but said future generations should not have to keep apologising for the mistakes of the past.
The legacy of the war still haunts relations with China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan’s sometimes brutal occupation and colonial rule before Tokyo’s defeat in 1945.
The remarks on Friday by Abe, seen by critics as a revisionist who wants to play down the dark chapters of Japan’s wartime past, received mixed reviews abroad.
Tokyo’s close ally the United States welcomed Abe’s commitment to uphold apologies made in the past.
The United States is keen to see Japan play a greater security role in Asia in the face of a rising China. But Washington also wants a lessening of tensions over history.
China said that Japan should apologise sincerely to countries that suffered from its military aggression and urged Japan to “take concrete actions to gain the trust of its Asian neighbours and the global community”.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Seoul was focused on Abe’s decision to uphold previous cabinets’ understanding of history, but added that the speech contained “regrettable elements”. She said she hoped Japan “soon and properly” resolved issued regarding women’s “honour and dignity”.
Abe on Friday said Japan should “never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured”. But he made no direct reference to “comfort women”, a euphemism for the girls and women – many of them Korean – forced into prostitution at Japanese military brothels.
Tokyo and Seoul have long been at odds over the issue of comfort women, with South Korea saying Japan has not done enough to atone for their suffering despite a 1993 apology.
North Korea, with which Japan has no diplomatic ties, condemned what it called “an attempt of the Japanese rightist conservatives to conceal its crime-woven past”.
Abe, who wants to repair ties with China and South Korea and could visit Beijing as soon as next month, was not planning to visit Yasukuni himself on Saturday, Hagiuda said.
But the LDP’s policy chief, Tomomi Inada, attended along with two cabinet ministers. Scores of other conservative lawmakers also planned to visit.
Abe’s conservative supporters are keen for Japan to put an end to what they see as a humiliating cycle of apologies.
“We need to terminate (the cycle of apology) for our grandchildren and the grandchildren’s grandchildren,” said a 64-year-old man visiting Yasukuni.