Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Seoul South Korea lodges strong protest: 168 Japanese lawmakers pay tribute at Yasukuni

A Shinto priest leads a group of Japanese lawmakers to offer prayers for the country’s war dead at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the occasion of the shrine’s spring festival, Tuesday. / AFP-Yonhap

Seoul lodges strong protest

By Chung Min-uck
A group of 168 Japanese lawmakers paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, Tuesday, ignoring Seoul’s decision in protest to cancel its foreign minister’s trip to Tokyo.
The foreign ministry expressed regret over the “insensitive act,” saying Japan was not reflecting on its historical misdeeds against Korea, China and other countries during its colonial era.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s visit was Monday canceled in protest against Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister, paying tribute at the shrine last week.
Japan’s nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also offered a “masakaki” that is traditionally used in rituals at the shrine with his name written under his title “Prime Minister.”
The ministry said that it expressed “deep regret and concern,” calling the temple a place that “glorifies Japan’s wars of aggression that caused huge losses and pain to the peoples of neighboring countries.”
China’s Foreign Ministry earlier lodged a protest as well urging Japan to “face up” to history and stop the visits immediately to create a future-oriented relationship with the people in Asia.
Japanese government officials and politicians have routinely visited the controversial shrine drawing criticism from neighboring countries such as the two Koreas and China.
Critics regard the move as evidence that the country’s leaders do not acknowledge Japan’s responsibility for its imperial past.
Commenting on the backlash, Aso said Tuesday that his paying tribute to the shrine was “nothing new” and he “didn’t think it would have any big impact on a diplomatic level.”
Experts say the Abe administration’s rightist drive is likely to continue as his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is bracing for upper house elections in July.
The LDP won a majority of seats in last year’s lower house elections by exploiting its people’s nationalist sentiment and demands for strong economic reform.
“Abe will slowly try to carry out a right-wing agenda as he promised earlier,” said Jo Yang-hyeon, a professor at the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy. “If the LDP wins the upcoming elections, it will fuel the Abe administration to push for a more provocative right-wing agenda including the revision of the current pacifist constitution.”
Seoul-Tokyo relations have remained at a low point since former President Lee Myung-bak’s unprecedented visit to the Korean islets of Dokdo last year. Tokyo reacted fiercely to the move threatening to unilaterally take the self-claimed territorial conflict over the islets to the International Court of Justice.
The rightist-led Abe administration has maintained a provocative stance regarding territorial matters and historical issues since taking office in December,
Abe sent a high-raking government official to Japan’s self-declared Takeshima Day on Feb. 22, three days before Park’s inauguration. Recently, the Japanese government also approved high school textbooks that include Japan’s claims over the islets and released the diplomatic Blue Book claiming sovereignty over Dokdo.
According to Japanese media reports, the Abe government is planning to enact a law that officially stipulates the name of the body of water separating the two nations as “The Sea of Japan.” South Korea claims the name should be “East Sea.”

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