Two Japanese ministers visited a controversial Tokyo war shrine Saturday, the first Cabinet ministers to join a pilgrimage by 100 lawmakers to the spot condemned by China and Korea as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi visited the Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo, a day after the cross-party group of parliamentarians also went to the site in a move that angered Beijing.
National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani also visited the shrine soon after Takaichi.
The 145-year-old Shinto shrine is the supposed repository of the souls of some 2.5 million citizens and soldiers who died in World War II and other conflicts.
They include senior figures in the WWII administration, such as General Hideki Tojo, who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The visit is likely to further irritate China, which voiced its anger Friday at the pilgrimage to the shrine by 100 lawmakers and Abe’s offering of a potted tree with his name and title prominently displayed, saying it had ratcheted up regional tensions.
Friday’s visits came just hours after Abe shook hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in the Italian city of Milan, despite tensions between the two powers.
The prime minister is thought unlikely to visit the shrine after he returns home Saturday from the summit.
In a photograph that emerged last month, Takaichi, known for her conservative political stance, was seen next to the leader of a domestic neo-Nazi party.
Yamatani has also been pictured with right-wing activists. They have both denied links to extremism.
China ships in disputed waters
Chinese coastguard ships entered waters off disputed islands in the East China Sea on Saturday, the Japan coastguard said, a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe angered Beijing by sending an offering to a controversial war shrine.
Three Chinese vessels sailed into territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles around one of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, shortly after 10:00 am (0100 GMT), the Japanese coastguard said.
Relations between Japan and China have been in deep freeze for two years over the ownership of the islands and what Beijing views as Japan’s rewriting of history — especially concerning World War II.
To mark the start of a four-day autumn festival on Friday, a cross-party group of Japanese parliamentarians said 110 of its members paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo, seen by China and Korea as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past.