Asia history tensions flare at UN debate

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (centre) visits Yasukuni shrine. Photo: 26 December 2013 Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (C) visited Yasukuni Shrine on 26 December

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Tensions between Japan and its neighbours over historical issues have flared at the UN Security Council, with strong words from top envoys.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the Japanese prime minister's recent visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine had "closed the door to dialogue".

South Korea's envoy, meanwhile, accused Japan of having a "distorted view" of history.

Japan said raising these issues at the UN did not help to reduce tensions.

The exchanges took place on Wednesday at a UN Security Council open debate on lessons to be learnt from war.

They came weeks after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of Japan's war dead - including several convicted war criminals - are enshrined.

Such visits enrage Japan's neighbours, who accuse Japan of failing to adequately address its past militarism.

They also come as Japan is embroiled in a bitter territorial row with both China and South Korea over disputed islands.

'Distorted view'

Addressing the debate, China's envoy accused Mr Abe of paying "homage to those who launched a war of aggression and were up to their elbows in the blood of the people in the countries they invaded".

Yasukuni Shrine

  • Built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji
  • Venerates the souls of 2.5m war dead
  • Those enshrined include hundreds of convicted war criminals, among them executed war-time leader Hideki Tojo
  • Shrine organisers stress that many thousands of civilians are honoured
  • China and South Korea see shrine as glorification of Japanese atrocities

Changing history destabilised regional peace and posed "a serious challenge to the peaceful course of mankind", Mr Liu said.

South Korea said tensions were escalating in north-east Asia because of the mutual distrust among states.

"And this mainly stems from the fact that the Japanese leadership has a distorted view of what happened during the time of imperialism," Ambassador Oh Joon said.

Japan's deputy UN envoy, Kazuyoshi Umemoto, said his country had squarely faced historical facts and had "expressed its feelings of remorse and heartfelt apology" over its actions.

Mr Abe, who is seen as a nationalist keen to amend or normalise Japan's post-war pacifist constitution, said his 26 December Yasukuni visit was in a private capacity and intended as an anti-war gesture.

It was the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006.

The US said it was "disappointed" by the move. Washington wants China, Japan and South Korea to work together on ways to tackle the issue of North Korea.

It also wants strong ties between Japan and South Korea to counterbalance China's increasing assertiveness in the region, including over its maritime territorial claims.

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