South Korea's foreign minister has cancelled a trip to Japan after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an offering to a shrine seen as a symbol of Japan's former militarism, a South Korean government official said today.
Abe, an outspoken nationalist, yesterday made a ritual offering of a pine tree to the Yasukuni shrine where 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured, along with other war dead.
He did not visit the shrine but two Japanese ministers and a deputy chief cabinet secretary did visit it on the weekend.
Such gestures upset Asian victims of Japan's war-time aggression, including China and South Korea.
"We are disappointed," said a South Korean government official who declined to be identified.
"Through a diplomatic channel, we sent a message several times that we did not want any visit to the shrine before our minister's trip," said the official.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had aimed to discuss the direction of bilateral relations with his Japanese counterpart during his planned visit, the official said.
"It is now almost impossible to have a constructive conversation," the official said, referring to the decision to cancel the trip.
For Koreans, the shrine is a reminder of Japan's brutal colonial rule from 1910-1945. China, which also suffered under Japanese occupation, also takes offence when Japanese leaders pay their respects at the shrine.
In Tokyo, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference that final details of Yun's visit had not been worked out. Visits to the shrine should not disrupt relations between Japan and its neighbours, he said.
"Each country has its own position. We should not let it affect diplomacy." Suga said the ministers' visits to the shrine were private. "Cabinet ministers paying visit as private individuals is their private conduct. The government refrains from commenting," he said.
China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to faxed questions but the People's Daily newspaper criticised Abe's action.
"It doesn't matter what form worshipping at Yasukuni takes," the newspaper said in an editorial. "This persists in taking a wrongheaded view of history, and deals a great blow to peace and stability in Asia."
It is not clear how Abe made his offering.
The Global Times, a sister paper of the People's Daily, said the shrine gesture was evidence that Japan was "a troublemaker and provocateur among Asian countries".
"This is yet another time that Japan has gone out of its way to manipulate Asian politics," it said.