The Chinese government summoned Japan's ambassador for a protest Thursday after two ministers in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, seen in China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
In a meeting with Ambassador Masato Kitera, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin conveyed China's "strong protest and severe condemnation" of the shrine visits on the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It said that no matter in what form or capacity Japanese leaders visit the war-linked shrine, it is essentially an attempt to "deny and beautify" Japan's history of militarism and invasion of its Asian neighbors.
During the meeting at the ministry that lasted about 45 minutes, Kitera, however, said his government is not in a position to make comments on Japanese political leaders' actions made in their private capacity, according to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.
Kitera also told Liu that Japan has been following the path of "a peaceful country" since the end of the war and regards its relations with China as "one of the most important ones," according to the embassy.
Yasukuni honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with millions of war dead. Past visits to the Shinto shrine by Japanese political leaders have infuriated countries that were victims of Japanese wartime aggression, especially China and South Korea.
The war anniversary was marked at a time when Tokyo's relations with Beijing and Seoul have plummeted to the worst levels in many years over territorial and historical issues.
The Japanese Embassy in Beijing was guarded Thursday by more police officers and vehicles than usual, while China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV aired a special program urging vigilance over the Abe government's "turn to the right."
Although Abe himself did not go to the shrine, evidently to avoid escalating tensions with China and South Korea, internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo and Keiji Furuya, state minister dealing with North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals, did go there in the morning to pay homage.
CCTV and the official Xinhua News Agency quickly reported about their visits, with Xinhua saying it ""will further harm mutual trust between Japan and its neighbors."
Xinhua also dispatched a commentary, entitled "Irresponsible attitudes toward history jeopardize Japan's future," in which it said that Abe's "nod to the ministers' visits and their recent provocative remarks signals that the current Japanese government has gone too far on the right-leaning road, raising fears among Japan's neighbors about a dangerous revival of its militarist past."
The commentary concluded by saying, "On this special day, Japan must reflect upon its history of aggression, sincerely apologize to the victims of its militarist past, and thus work to secure a peaceful future for the country itself and the region at large."
Over the past weeks, Chinese media have repeatedly warned that the Japanese government is increasingly becoming "right-leaning," such as by refusing to face up squarely to Japan's wartime history and making efforts to amend the pacifist Constitution.
As of Thursday afternoon, no anti-Japan protests were seen in Beijing. But three men with a banner saying "destroy Japan's militarism" appeared in front of the Japanese Consulate-General in Shanghai and protested against the Yasukuni visits.