A visit by Japan’s prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to a shrine honouring his country’s war dead has once again drawn protests from China and South Korea and stirred controversy at home.
Japan’s relations with its neighbours have already chilled because of Koizumi’s previous annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Unlike on previous occasions Koizumi did not enter an inner shrine, a move that Japanese media interpreted as an attempt to lessen an expected backlash. There were protests nonetheless at the scene. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing summoned the Japanese ambassador to lodge an official protest against the shrine visit “and other mistakes”. China’s ambassador to Japan called the visit a “grave provocation to the Chinese people”. In Seoul, the South Korean foreign minister summoned the Japanese ambassador to complain. Just how strongly the Chinese feel was illustrated in sometimes violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in Beijing last year, after a visit then by Koizumi to the shrine. The Japanese leader says he is not trying to create offence and goes to the memorial to pray for peace and honour the dead. But his actions could hurt trade with neighbours which still harbour painful memories of Japan’s brutal wartime occupations.