South Korea's Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned Japan's ambassador in Seoul to lodge an official protest against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks defending his Cabinet members' visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine.
The protest was filed with Ambassador Koro Bessho a day after Abe, speaking in parliament in the wake of protests from South Korea and China over the recent shrine visits by his ministers, said, "My ministers will not yield to any kind of intimidation."
"It's a matter of course to secure the freedom to express one's respect and worship to precious souls of the war dead," Abe said.
The visits to the Tokyo shrine, which is seen in South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, were made Friday through Sunday by three Cabinet members including Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, while 168 lawmakers paid homage there en masse on Tuesday.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated that he saw no problem with people paying respect to those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
At the same time the top government spokesman said, "Japan, as a nation responsible for peace and prosperity of the region, will aim to strengthen ties with South Korea and China from a broad perspective."
"South Korea and China are Japan's important neighbors and Japan does not wish that its ties with them will be affected," he said.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye said Wednesday that Japan's leaning toward the right is "not desirable for Japan" because its relations with other countries in Northeast Asia will become difficult.
"Relations between South Korea and Japan are very important in terms of security and economy, but having a different recognition of the past history will make the wounds of the past history worse and make it difficult for the two countries to move in a future-oriented way," she said in a meeting with managing editors of media organizations, according to Yonhap News Agency.
"Japan should move along with international society in a harmonious way," Park was quoted as saying.
Yasukuni honors convicted Class-A war criminals from World War II along with Japan's war dead. Repeated visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders have angered China and South Korea, both of which suffered under the Japanese military during the war.
During the session of the upper house's budget panel, Abe said one of his important jobs is "to protect the pride (of the Japanese people) built on history and tradition and to protect national interests."