Koreans react bitterly to shrine visit in Japan
October 18, 2005 - Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, paid another well-publicized visit to a controversial war shrine yesterday, and the reaction in Seoul was bitter outrage.
The presidential spokesman, Kim Man-soo, told the press after the visit, "Until recently, we have talked about bilateral leaders' meetings, but now I am forced to say we are no longer considering a meeting." He was referring to tentative plans for President Roh Moo-hyun to travel to Japan in December to meet with Mr. Koizumi. Neither, the spokesman said, would Mr. Roh meet his Japanese counterpart one-on-one at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan next month.
The angry words came after Mr. Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine yesterday morning, his fifth visit there since he became prime minister in 2001. What sets the shrine, built in 1869, apart from any nation's military cemetery where war dead are honored, is a series of tablets honoring 14 World War II leaders who were convicted of war crimes and hanged by the victorious allies after the war. Also commemorated are 21,000 Korean conscripts in the Japanese Army who were war casualties.
A Japanese government spokesman, Hiroyuki Hosoda, said Mr. Koizumi visited the shrine in his personal capacity, not as prime minister.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon summoned Japan's ambassador to Korea, Shotaro Oshima, to lodge a complaint. "The South Korean government has been asking the Japanese leader not to pay his respects at a symbol of Japan's aggression and imperialism," Mr. Ban reportedly told the Japanese envoy. "It is not an exaggeration to call the shrine visits the most critical factor in strained South Korea-Japan relations."
The Blue House spokesman made that veiled threat more explicit. "The Japanese government will be responsible for any aftermath of the visit," he warned. "Mr. Koizumi's latest shrine visit will definitely influence the two countries' relations."
China also warned Japan about the visits, but its initial reaction seemed less strident than Seoul's.
"China has consistently objected when Japanese politicians pay respects at the shrine," Wang Yi, China's ambassador to Japan, told the press there. "Japan must bear the responsibility for damaging China-Japan relations."