Seoul protests Yasukuni visitors

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Seoul protests Yasukuni visitors

To protest visits by Japanese cabinet members to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se canceled a two-day Tokyo trip scheduled for this week, delivering another setback to bilateral relations between the neighbors.

As the shrine kicked off its annual spring festival on Sunday, several bigwigs visited the shrine, which honors Japanese war dead including Class A war criminals. They included Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, minister in charge of the abduction issue; Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issues; and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazunobu Kato. The internal affairs and communications minister, Yoshitaka Shindo, visited the shrine on Saturday.

They all claimed their visits to the shrine were personal.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering of a decorative tree branch Sunday, although he did not visit in person. Japanese media previously reported that Abe did not plan to go to the shrine during the spring festival, which falls between Sunday and today, because of concerns about relations with Seoul and Beijing.

The three countries plan to hold a trilateral summit, but it has been indefinitely delayed, in part because of tense Sino-Japanese relations over a territorial dispute.

The Korean Foreign Ministry yesterday expressed its “deep regret and concern” that the Japanese prime minister made an offering and the cabinet ministers paid tribute at the shrine. The ministry reminded Japan to “face up to history in order to build mutual trust with its neighbors.”

Foreign Minister Yun was slated to hold his first bilateral talks with Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida starting from Friday, according to ministry officials.

A senior ministry official yesterday said, “By canceling his trip to Japan, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se sends a strong message on the shaky trust between the two countries.”

The trip, he said, would have been an opportunity for the two countries to set the direction of bilateral relations of their new administrations. But after the Yasukuni incident, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul “determined it will be difficult to have productive talks.”

“For Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, as second in command in the cabinet, to pay respects at the Yasukuni Shrine was an irresponsible action,” the official said, adding that Aso has served as an “envoy to Korea in the past and also is likely to run for prime minister in the future.

“While it is difficult to change one’s perception, one’s behavior can be changed,” the official stated.

Aso, a former prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, currently holds the post of minister of finance as well as deputy prime minister and was Japan’s envoy to President Park Geun-hye’s inauguration in February.

Another high-level diplomatic official told the JoongAng Ilbo that relations between Seoul and Tokyo sagged at the Feb. 25 presidential inauguration after Park told Aso that the two countries should “squarely face history in a forward-looking manner.”

Former President Lee Myung-bak’s landmark visit last August to the disputed Dokdo islets, called Takeshima by Japan, the first by a Korean president, led to a fast deterioration of bilateral relations.

Before he took office in December, Abe made a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last October with a group of senior government officials and lawmakers and offered prayers to the dead, which sparked criticism from Seoul and Beijing.

By Sarah Kim []
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