BEIJING--In a rare high-level protest to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a Chinese government leader called on Abe to take concrete steps to keep strained bilateral relations from worsening further.
“Abe must admit and correct his mistake and eliminate the harmful influence (of his visit) by real action,” state councilor Yang Jiechi, whose position is on the same level as vice premier, said in a statement on Dec. 28.
“The visit is never an issue of internal affairs of Japan or of an individual,” the statement said. “It is an issue that has bearings on the political foundation for the relationship between Japan and the international community.”
When Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes 14 Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead, on Dec. 26, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi summoned Masato Kitera, Japan’s ambassador to China, and lodged a protest.
The Chinese government demonstrated its strong stance not only to Japan but also to the Chinese public by raising the level of protest with the statement from a state councilor.
Even when former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine during the 2000s, a vice premier-level Chinese official did not issue a protest.
There is a possibility that China will take countermeasures depending on the response from the Abe administration.
“(The Chinese government) cannot allow itself to be seen by the public as taking a soft stance against Japan,” a researcher at a think tank said.
Around China, no public outrage was seen in the days following Abe's shrine visit, as far as any cancellation of Japan-related events or demonstration.
In Guangzhou, Guangdong province, an event featuring Japanese anime and games opened Dec. 28 as scheduled.
The event was called off last year amid tensions between China and Japan after Tokyo’s decision to put the Senkaku Islands under state ownership sparked anti-Japan demonstrations around the country. Beijing also claims the islands in the East China Sea, which it calls Diaoyu.
No major protests to Abe’s visit were reported on Dec. 28, apparently under a government policy to crack down on such demonstrations.
China began promoting economic and other private-sector exchanges with Japan after Abe, who took office last December, refrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine on the Aug. 15th anniversary of the end of World War II.
However, a senior official of a government-affiliated think tank said, “There is a good chance that a mood of self-restraint will spread once again (to exchanges between the two countries).”
A survey by an organization under the Global Times, a newspaper known for its patriotic tone, found that 70 percent of about 1,000 respondents are angry at Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine.
More than 67 percent supported sanctions against Japanese companies that make contributions to the shrine, while 55 percent favored refraining from traveling to Japan.
(This article was written by Koichiro Ishida in Beijing and Kentaro Koyama in Guangzhou.)
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