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South Korea expressed its “deep disappointment and regret” after Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida sent a floral offering to the war-linked Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on the occasion of the spring festival.
The shrine is seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression. It honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 leaders who were later convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after the Second World War.
While no other sitting prime minister of Japan has physically gone to the shrine since Shinzo Abe in December 2013, Mr Kishida made an offering last October, sparking swift backlash from both Beijing and Seoul.
Mr Kishida, largely viewed as a liberal among the lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to avoid visiting the shrine, especially after he expressed desire to improve ties with South Korea under President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.
Responding to his offerings at the shrine on Thursday, the South Korean foreign ministry said: “The government expresses deep disappointment and regret over the fact that Japan’s responsible leaders have once again sent offerings to and paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine which glorifies Japan’s history of war of aggression and enshrines war criminals.”
“Our government strongly urges Japan’s responsible figures to look direct into their history, and show through action their humble reflection and sincere remorse of its past history.”
“In Ukraine, many brave people are currently fighting and risking their lives to protect their country,” he said, adding that he wanted to pay his respects to those who had given their lives for Japan.
Additional reporting by agencies