(AA) — More than 100 Japanese lawmakers from various parties visited a controversial shrine for the country’s war dead Wednesday, a day after an offering by the premier drew criticism from China and South Korea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a “masakaki” tree to the Yasukuni Shrine Tuesday before leaving for an international conference in Indonesia, rather than visiting the site during the annual three-day spring festival.
The shrine in Tokyo has been a source of tension between Japan and its neighbors, especially China and South Korea, as the war dead it honors includes 14 war criminals convicted by the Allies in the trials that followed World War II.
Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan were joined by others from the Japan Innovation Party and the Party for Future Generations during Wednesday’s visit.
Kyodo News quoted the LDP’s Hidehisa Otsuji as expressing to a press conference after the visit his support for “the prime minister’s decision made for the sake of the country.”
The visit was criticized as “deeply disappointing and beyond deplorable” by South Korea.
“The politicians’ offerings and tribute demonstrate that Japan still does not squarely face history,” Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan’s colonial occupation and war of aggression,” it added.
China’s foreign ministry also called on Japan to face up to historic matters, especially with this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, after Abe’s offering Tuesday.
Hong Lei, ministry spokesman, said Japan must work to regain the trust of its neighbors as well as the international community through practical action, according to the Shanghai Daily.
China had also protested offerings by Abe to the shrine during last year’s spring and autumn festivals.
The premier arrived in Indonesia Tuesday to attend the Asian-African Conference, before traveling to the United States next week.
Visits by Japanese officials to Yasukuni, including one by Abe in Dec. 2013, have drawn criticism as they are viewed as a sign of Japan failing to atone for its past imperialist aggression. Conservative politicians in the country have been accused of repeatedly downgrading previous statements of apology.
Abe himself has previously defended visiting sites like Yasukuni as a way of promoting peace by ensuring the past is not forgotten.
The premier will have the opportunity for a definitive say on the issue in August, when he is expected to issue a statement in recognition of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat.