Japan ministers in Yasukuni visit as PM Abe sends offering

Japanese lawmakers visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on 15 August 2013 Image copyright AP
Image caption Lawmakers' visits anger Japan's neighbours, who say they glorify militarism

Two Japanese cabinet ministers and dozens of lawmakers have visited the Yasukuni shrine on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering but was expected to stay away, in an apparent move intended to avoid inflaming tensions with neighbours.

The shrine commemorates Japan's war dead but also honours several convicted war criminals.

China summoned the Japanese ambassador to protest.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the visit "seriously harms the feelings of the people in China".

China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's war-time aggression.

'General judgement'

Early on Thursday Mr Abe's ministers for internal affairs and the North Korea issue, Yoshitaka Shindo and Keiji Furuya, visited the shrine in central Tokyo to pay their respects.

About 90 other lawmakers followed later in the day.

Mr Abe, who visited the shrine in October 2012 when he was the leader of the opposition, sent a ritual offering with an aide but was not expected in person.

"The leader wanted to pass along his prayers for the people who died in the war and apologise for not making a personal visit," Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) official Koichi Hagiuda said.

"He considered from various angles and made a general judgement not to come to pray today," the official, who made the offering on behalf of Mr Abe, added.

The shrine commemorates some 2.5 million Japanese men, women and children who died for their country in wars.

But the souls of 14 Class A convicted war criminals from World War II are also enshrined there, including Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo, who was executed for war crimes in 1948.

The shrine is also deeply political, reports the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes from Tokyo. Today its history museum continues to peddle a version of World War II history that either ignores or denies the crimes committed by Japan in Korea and China.

Visits to the shrine by lawmakers anger and offend Japan's neighbours, to whom the shrine represents Japan's past militarism, including the colonisation of the Korean peninsula and the invasion of China.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, through spokesman Hong Lei, issued a statement condemning the visits which it said "fundamentally attempt to deny and gloss over Japan's history of invasion".

This year's anniversary comes with ties tense between Tokyo and governments in Beijing and Seoul. China and Japan remain locked in a bitter dispute over East China Sea islands that both claim.

South Korea and Japan, meanwhile, are involved in a row over an island midway between the two over which both say they have sovereignty.

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