China and South Korea on Thursday denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for defending his controversial visit last month to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine at an international gathering.
"The Yasukuni Shrine is a spiritual tool and symbol of Japan's militarism," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a daily press briefing, noting that Class-A war criminals honored there along with about 2.5 million war dead should be recognized as the "Nazis" of Asia.
"I have repeatedly mentioned here about what kind of facility the Yasukuni Shrine is," South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters. "It's totally contradictory to talk about forging friendly ties with South Korea while continuing visits to the shrine."
Their remarks came a day after Abe, while participating in the World Economic Forum in Davos, said that there is "tremendous misunderstanding" about his visit to the shrine on Dec. 26 and expressed hope that he could resume dialogue with top leaders in China and South Korea.
In his speech at the forum, Abe also said Japan "has sworn an oath never again to wage a war," while calling for efforts to "restrain military expansion in Asia."
Qin and Cho, however, cast doubt on Abe's sincerity.
Seen from Abe's remarks until today, Qin said, it is obvious that the Japanese prime minister is unrepentant about the country's militaristic past.
"Only by implementing the spirit of the Murayama statement, Japan can win the trust of other countries," he said. "If the Japanese leaders act willfully in the wrong way, Japan will be directed on the path of harming Asia, the world and Japan itself."
The statement mentioned by the Chinese spokesman was issued on Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, by then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to apologize for Japan's past aggression and colonial rule in Asia.
"Japanese political leaders, including the prime minister, should not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and that's the starting point for friendly relations between South Korea and Japan and for stability in the region," Cho said.
Japan's relations with China and South Korea have further deteriorated since Abe's visit to the shrine.
The two countries argue the shrine glorifies Japan's history of aggression against its neighbors during and before World War II, and say visits by Japanese political leaders are insensitive to the feelings of people in their countries.