Dozens of Japanese lawmakers, including two cabinet members, visited a Tokyo shrine that honors war criminals on Thursday, sparking anger in Beijing and Seoul over their attempts to deny Japan's militarist past.
Within the past two months, Japan has run into a severe diplomatic deadlock with its neighbors in territorial disputes over islands, and observers warned that Japan's right-wing hard-liners have hijacked foreign relations and will fuel further disagreements.
Japanese Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and Postal Privatization Minister Mikio Shimoji, along with more than 60 cross-party members of parliament, visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation's war dead, including Class A war criminals.
Because it is a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression in World War II, previous visits by Japanese politicians to the shrine have infuriated its victimized neighbors, including China and South Korea, and reminded them of its militarist past.
On Wednesday, Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberation Democratic Party, Japan's main opposition party, visited the shrine.
The shrine is "a spiritual pillar" used by Japanese militarism for its overseas aggression, and it still enshrines war criminals "who owe victimized people heavy bloody debts", Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference on Thursday.
"We urge Japan to reflect upon history and strictly abide by its solemn statements and pledges regarding historical issues, and face the international community in a responsible manner," Hong said.
Japanese Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Tokyo's top spokesman, said the ministers' latest visits were "not made in an official capacity" and "the government has no further comment".
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