Japanese visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on August 15, 2016. © AFP
South Korea has expressed deep regret over the visit of Japanese lawmakers to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, saying the move “glorifies the history of the war of aggression.”
The reaction came after dozens of Japanese lawmakers paid a tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of the country’s World War II defeat on Monday.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stayed away from the site but sent a ritual offering to the shrine, instead. The prime minister has not visited the shrine in person since December 2012.
In a statement, South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "deep concern and regret that responsible political leaders ... are again paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine."
Japanese lawmakers are visiting the Yasukuni shrine on the 71st anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two in Tokyo on August 14, 2016. © AFP
China’s Xinhua news agency also denounced the lawmakers' visit to the shrine, calling on Tokyo to repent its wartime past.
"It's in the interests of both Japan and its neighboring countries for the former military power to truly reflect upon its past wrongs," Xinhua said.
Both Seoul and Beijing consider the shrine, which is a revered site for the Japanese, as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism and describe the visits as an attempt by Tokyo to whitewash the wartime aggression.
At a state memorial ceremony later in the day, Abe reiterated his vows not to allow the tragedy of war to be repeated.
As he spoke, a group of South Korean lawmakers visited small disputed islands in the East China Sea to mark the 71th anniversary of independence from the Japanese rule.
A group of South Korean lawmakers made a visit to disputed islets claimed by Tokyo on August 15, 2016.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga protested the visit, describing it as "unacceptable and extremely regrettable."
The islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan are also claimed by Tokyo. Located in waters between Korea and Japan, they are believed to be rich in natural gas and other resources.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have improved since Abe met South Korean President Park Geun-hye last month in Seoul.
Park said on Monday that her country should “newly define relations with Japan to forge future-oriented ties".