The Chinese government summoned Japan's ambassador on Friday to issue a protest after a minister in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet and about 160 lawmakers visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin summoned Japanese Ambassador Masato Kitera to express "strong condemnation" of the visits, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press conference.
The shrine is seen in China and some other Asian countries as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as it honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with millions of war dead.
"The issue of Yasukuni shrine is an issue about whether Japan can correct its historical view and respect the feelings of people of victimized countries, including China," Hua said.
She said a Japanese Cabinet member's visit to the shrine is "a blatant attempt to whitewash" the history of Japan's past militarism and "challenge the outcomes of the war and post-war international order."
During a meeting at the Chinese Foreign Ministry that lasted about 40 minutes, Kitera told Liu that the Japanese 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.
The ambassador also reminded him that Japan has been following the path of "a peaceful country" since the end of World War II and regards its relations with China as "one of the most important ones," the embassy said.
In the morning, Yoshitaka Shindo, the internal affairs minister, as well as around 160 members of a cross-party group of lawmakers visited the shrine for its autumn festival.
On Thursday, Abe made a ritual offering out of his own pocket to the Shinto shrine, but refrained from visiting there, evidently to avoid escalating tensions with China and South Korea at a time when Japan's relations with them have plummeted to the worst levels in many years over territorial and historical issues.
On Aug. 15, Kitera was also summoned by Liu after Shindo and one other Japanese minister visited the shrine on the occasion of the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.