(AA) – Two ministers from the Japanese prime minister’s Cabinet have visited a controversial shrine for the country’s war dead, just a day after Shinzo Abe held talks with Chinese President on the sidelines of an international conference in Indonesia.
Eriko Yamatani, disaster management minister, and Haruko Arimura, minister in charge of female empowerment, visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, after recent moves by other lawmakers and an offering by Abe drew criticism from China and South Korea.
Among the war dead honored at the Yasukuni shrine are 14 war criminals convicted by the Allies in the trials that followed World War II.
Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, expressed that the visit by Yamatani during the three-day annual spring festival should not impact Japanese- Chinese relations, which have been strained due to territorial and historical disputes.
“Her visit has been made in a private capacity,” Kyodo News quoted him as telling a press conference.
Yamatani told reporters following the visit of her “gratitude to the spirits of the war dead.”
The ministers’ move has been disapproved by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, its Diet affairs chief Yoshiaki Takaki censuring them for not having “taken heed to the timing” following Abe’s meeting with Xi Jinping.
Wednesday’s meeting at the Asian-African Summit in Jakarta was the first between the leaders of the rival Asian countries since November, when they spoke at a Beijing summit after a two-year suspension in high-level ties over an island dispute.
Abe and Xi told reporters that they had agreed to advance bilateral ties for regional stability.
Kyodo cited Japanese officials as saying Abe and Xi did not touch on issues related to Yasukuni, with an unnamed senior official saying Abe had told Xi he would uphold apologies issued by previous governments over WWII.
During his address at the summit, Abe expressed Japan’s “deep remorse” and said he upholds a landmark statement by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama who issued a “heartfelt apology” in 1995 to the people of countries affected by Japanese “colonial rule and aggression.”
Abe added, however, that he did not find it necessary to repeat the phrasing in a statement he is set to issue this August for the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.
His speech was criticized by the South Korean Foreign Ministry for “the omission of key expressions of apology and repentance over [Japan’s] colonial rule and aggressions.”
Abe left for Indonesia on Tuesday after sending an offering to Yasukuni before 106 lawmakers visited the site the next day — moves that drew criticism from China and South Korea.
Japan’s neighbors view visits by officials to Yasukuni, including one by Abe in Dec. 2013, as a sign of Tokyo 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.