TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent an offering to a controversial Tokyo shrine for war dead visited by members of his cabinet on Monday (Aug 15), the 77th anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, a move set to anger South Korea and China.
With the site seen as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression, Japan’s ties with China are particularly strained this year after it conducted unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan following the visit there by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month.
During the drills several missiles fell in waters inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Footage on broadcaster NHK showed the shrine being visited early on Monday by Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi.
The site, honouring 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as war dead, was visited earlier by Mr Koichi Hagiuda, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy research council and a key ally of slain former prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The central Tokyo shrine was also visited by Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
Mr Kishida sent an offering to the shrine without visiting, Kyodo news agency reported. He sent offerings to Yasukuni during festivals last year and this spring.
The commemoration leaves Mr Kishida, who is on the dovish side of the conservative LDP, facing a tricky balancing act. He is seeking to avoid irking international neighbours and partners, while still keeping the more right-wing members of the party happy, particularly after the killing of party kingpin Abe last month.
“I am not aware of whether the Prime Minister will visit Yasukuni Shrine or not, and I believe that he will make the appropriate decision,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on Monday.
“It is natural for any country to pay respect to those who gave their lives for their country,” Mr Matsuno said. “Japan will continue to strengthen its relations with its neighbours, including China and South Korea.”
A group of lawmakers that normally visit en masse on Aug 15 said last week they would not do so due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Mr Kishida avoided paying his respects in person on the anniversary of the war’s end while he was a cabinet minister and LDP official, but has sent offerings to the two Yasukuni festivals that have taken place since he took office last October. He, as well as Emperor Naruhito, will attend a separate, secular ceremony later in the day.
Abe was the last prime minister in recent memory to visit Yasukuni while in office, in 2013 – a visit that outraged both China and South Korea and even drew a rebuke from its close ally the United States.
The United States and Japan have become staunch security allies in the decades since the war’s end, but its legacy still haunts East Asia.
Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula, while China has bitter memories of imperial troops’ invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945.