Two cabinet ministers of Japan have visited the Yasukuni war shrine a day after a similar visit by the parliament members angered China and South Korea, which consider the move as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
The shrine visit by Japan's Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi and the state minister in charge of women's empowerment, Katsunobu Kato, drew condemnation from Beijing, which said the shrine "whitewashes" Japan's past militarism and "reveals its wrong attitude towards history."
"China firmly opposes that," said Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, during a regular press conference on Wednesday, adding, "We urge Japan to own up to and reflect upon its history of aggression, make a clean break with militarism and use concrete actions to win back trust from its Asian neighbors and the international community."
The Wednesday visit came a day after South Korea and China rebuked a similar move by more than 80 lawmakers along with Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozak.
Yasukuni was founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the service of the Japanese empire.
In the post-World War II years, the defeated Japan expanded the purpose of the shrine to include those who died in all the wars involving Japan, from the Meiji era to 1951.
The shrine honors some 2,500,000 people who died for the cause of Japan, including more than 1,000, among them 14 leaders, who are considered as war criminals.
The annual offerings to the shrine by Japanese leaders have drawn condemnation from the countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
Takaichi and Kato are close to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who strives for the improvement of Japan’s relations with South Korea and China and has not gone to the shrine since 2013, when he visited it to mark his first year as premier.
Abe, however, sends ritual offerings on a regular basis.