Monday, April 22, 2013

Japan MPs visit Yasukuni Shrine as island tensions rumble

A total of 168 lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a day after South Korea\'s foreign minister shelved a visit over the issue.

The shrine commemorates Japan\'s war dead, including war criminals.

Meanwhile Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador after eight Chinese patrol ships sailed near the disputed islands.

China said its ships had been monitoring Japanese vessels, as a group of Japanese activists sailed several boats to the area.


The visit by by the bipartisan group of lawmakers to the shrine in Tokyo was to mark the spring festival.

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Yasukuni Shrine

Built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji

Venerates the souls of Japan\'s war dead

Those enshrined include convicted war criminals

Japan\'s neighbours say it represents the country\'s past militarism

Japan\'s Yasukuni Shrine

Two cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, also visited the shrine on Sunday, angering regional neighbours who view the shrine as a reminder of Japan\'s military past.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not visit but made a ritual offering.

Seoul cancelled a proposed visit, while China lodged \"solemn representations\" in response to the ministers\' visit.

\"Only when Japan faces up to its aggressive past can it embrace the future and develop friendly relations with its Asian neighbours,\" Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.

But Japanese lawmaker Hidehisa Otsujji said it was \"natural\" for \"lawmakers to worship at a shrine for people who died for the nation\".

\"Every nation does this. I don\'t understand why we get a backlash,\" he said.

Territorial tensions

Chinese and Japanese surveillance ships are monitoring each other closely

Meanwhile the dispute over the East China Sea islands - called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China - flared again, with what reports said was the highest number of Chinese boats in the area since Tokyo nationalised part of the island chain in September 2012.

It came as 10 Japanese boats carrying around 80 activists arrived in the area early on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported, monitored by Japanese Coast Guard vessels. Public broadcaster NHK said the boats were carrying \"regional lawmakers and members of the foreign media\".

\"The intrusion into territorial waters is extremely regrettable. In any case, the Senkaku islands are Japan\'s own territory without a doubt,\" Yoshihide Suga, Japan\'s Chief Cabinet Secretary, said.

But China\'s State Oceanic Administration issued a statement saying three of its ships had \"found\" several Japanese ships around the Diaoyu islands, and \"immediately ordered another five ships in the East China Sea to meet the three ships\".

China claims the island chain, which is controlled by Japan. Taiwan also claims the islands, which offer rich fishing grounds and lie in a strategically important area.

They have been at the heart of considerable diplomatic tension between China and Japan, most recently in January when Japan said a Chinese frigate locked weapons-controlling radar on one of its navy ships near the islands - something China disputes.

The territorial row has been rumbling for years but reignited last year when Japan bought three of the islands from their private Japanese owner.
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