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Japanese ministers visit controversial war shrine

08-15-2012 19:04 BJT

TOKYO, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Two Japanese Cabinet ministers visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Wednesday on the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in Word War Two, despite Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the majority of his Cabinet opting not to do so.

Both National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Yuichiro Hata paid homage at the contentious Yasukuni, which enshrines more than 2 million war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals, in a move likely to aggrieve Japan's East Asian neighbors.

Noda had stated earlier that he himself would not be visiting the shrine and said that his Cabinet members would also not visit, in an official capacity, the shrine which is a physical embodiment of Japan's bitter militaristic and colonial past. Noda gave the order to avoid further souring bilateral ties with its neighbors over recent territorial disputes.

However, despite Noda's calls for them not to do so, Matsubara and Hata both visited the shrine, which has been honoring Japan's war dead for more than 200 years, and Class-A war criminals following their convictions at the International Military Tribunal following Japan's surrender at the end of World War II and their subsequent executions.

"This is a private visit to this shrine," Matsubara told local reporters. Hata had said earlier that his visit would also be on an "unofficial" basis.

The controversial visit marks the first time Cabinet members under a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which swung to power in 2009, have visited Yasukuni and discloses Noda's weakening grip on his increasingly splintered party and anemic authority over his ministers.

Annual visits to Yasukuni by former Prime Minister and leader of the now main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Junichiro Koizumi, during his tenure at the country's helm from 2001 to 2006, were widely criticized by South Korea and China, both nations of which saw large areas suffer under Japan's wartime colonial occupation.

However, until today, the last visits to the shrine were by consumer affairs minister Seiko Noda in August 2009, when Taro Aso was the nation's leader for the liberals, but current LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki, largely unknown for public acts of patriotism, has also said he will make the pilgrimage to the controversial shrine, adding to the overall furor.

According to observers, the move may endear him to a public disenchanted with a leadership that is widely regarded as weak- kneed and inept when it comes to matters of international diplomacy and is facing a possible trouncing in upcoming elections.

The LDP are hoping to oust the DPJ in the next elections by reasserting themselves as a conservative party capable of prioritizing Japan's national interests.

Today's visits will do little for Noda's efforts to reunite his fragmented party and avoid anymore defections by DPJ lawmakers.

The visits fly in the face of the DPJ election pledge in 2009 for Japan to forge closer ties with its neighbors -- the DPJ reneging on its tax hike pledge caused a number of high profile lawmakers, like powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, to bolt from the ruling bloc and form or join opposition parties.

In addition, the Yasukuni visits will likely inflame an increasingly volatile relationship with South Korea, following South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visiting a disputed island claimed by both countries last Friday, which escalated the territorial row and heightened ongoing diplomatic altercations.

For China's part, officials urged Japan to adhere to its promise of "facing up to and reflecting on its invasion history," with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang saying earlier that he hopes Japan will "keep its promise and maintain the overall situation of the China-Japan relations with concrete actions."

At a memorial ceremony to mark the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, Noda vowed his nation would never again be involved in war and that on behalf of the country his government would strive for a peaceful world

"Japan, as a member of the international society, renews its pledge to ceaselessly seek the realization of international peace, " the Japanese premiere said.

"Japan caused considerable damage and pain to people in many countries, in particular Asian countries. I express deep remorse and offer condolences to the victims and their relatives," Noda said.


Editor:Zhang Dan |Source: Xinhua

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