BEIJING, Aug. 15 -- In defiance of strong opposition from neighboring countries, two Japanese Cabinet members and dozens of lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Claiming their visits are personal, an excuse which sounds too familiar, the Japanese politicians went to a wrong place at a sensitive time.
The Yasukuni Shrine, located in central Tokyo, is a Shinto shrine which honors some 2.5 million Japanese war dead. Among those commemorated are 14 notorious war criminals in World War II, which makes the shrine visits, official or not, controversial and sensitive.
For neighboring countries like China and South Korea, the shrine is a symbol of Japan's past militarism and a place reminiscent of the war-time atrocities committed by Japanese invaders.
By visiting the shrine on the day marking the end of the dark times, some irresponsible Japanese politicians are adding salt to the wound of those who suffered from Japan's aggression, and the provocative move risks further straining the already soured relations between Japan and its neighbors.
The crux of the controversy surrounding the shrine visits is Japan's attitude toward its war-time past, a long-time issue disturbing its neighbors.
The visits, along with a string of recent provocations by Japanese right-wing politicians, are a visible sign that Japan fails to have a deep and profound reflection on its history of aggression and is hollowing out its post-war reconciliation.
There has been a dangerous tendency since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December that the Japanese leadership is catering to the rightist conservatives and attempting to whitewash the country' s war-time history so as to set the stage for a military revival.
Abe, who refrained from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday for fear of diplomatic consequences but sent a ritual offering, had gone so far as to say there is no established definition of aggression. His deputy Taro Aso also shocked the world last month by saying that Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform.
In a major push to contest the post-war order, the Abe administration has launched a bid to revise Japan's pacifist constitution for a military build-up, raising the specter of resurging militarism.
The fear was strengthened when Japan earlier this month gave its new giant warship the same name of a Japanese cruiser once used during the invasion of China in the early 20th century.
An impenitent Japan with a haunting thirst for military glory is worrisome and has put its neighbors on high alert.
In order to prevent repetition of the historical tragedy, the first thing to do is for Japan to face up to history squarely and respect the feelings of people in the victim countries, including China.
If Tokyo is sincere in its commitment to regional peace and stability, it has to win back trust of its neighbors with its actions, and that trust cannot be built on denial of the past.