(Adds South Korean President Moon’s remarks)
By Antoni Slodkowski, Linda Sieg and Sangmi Cha
TOKYO / SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Saturday, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, but avoided a personal visit to the China and China would upset South Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose ties with Japan have been shaken by the legacy of the past, said in a speech that Seoul is always ready to discuss historical disputes with Tokyo.
At least four Japanese cabinet ministers personally paid their respects in Yasukuni. This honors 14 Japanese war leaders who were convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as Japan̵
“I came to deliver a message from President Abe (ruling Liberal Democratic Party) that he showed heartfelt respect for the war dead and prayed for the rest and lasting peace of their souls,” said ruling party’s lawmaker Shuichi Takatori of the offer for Abe.
Abe has not gone to Yasukuni in person since a visit in December 2013 that outraged China and South Korea, but has sent offers through an aide.
39-year-old Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, who often floated as future Prime Minister, visited the shrine on the emotional anniversary, as did Abe ally’s Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda, Seiichi Eto, the Minister for Territorial Affairs, and Interior Minister Sanae Takaichi.
Thousands of men and women of all ages brave the scorching heat amid the novel coronavirus pandemic to pay their respects in Yasukuni, where markers helped people maintain social distance while they queued and signs urged them to stay away due to COVID -19-concerns do not collect. A group of conservative lawmakers who visit each year sent representatives instead.
Japan hasn’t seen an explosive surge, but cases are increasing.
Abe and Emperor Naruhito will attend a separate official secular ceremony later in the day, downsized due to concerns about the pandemic.
The United States and Japan have become strong security allies in the decades since the end of the war, but their legacy still haunts East Asia.
Koreans, marking the date as National Liberation Day, oppose Japan’s colonization of the peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
China has bitter memories of the invasion and occupation of imperial forces in parts of the country from 1931 to 1945.
“We have to learn from history, let history be a warning for the future and show that we are ready to fight in the event of war,” said a comment from the official Chinese military newspaper, the People’s Liberation Army.
Japan’s relations with South Korea are particularly strained by a dispute over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japan’s mines and factories during the war.
“We have discussed a friendly solution with the Japanese government that the victims can agree on,” Moon said in a speech in Seoul. The door to negotiations is still wide open. ”
Relationships are also strained over “comfort women” as women, many Koreans who are supposed to work in Japanese military brothels, are known euphemistically.
In Japan, where more than 80% of people were born after the conflict ended, the consensus about the war is still difficult to pin down.
“Let’s not talk about the past, but about the future. I hope Japan and South Korea can move closer together, ”said Ayaka Soma, 27, a freelance researcher visiting Yasukuni.
Naruhito, grandson of wartime Emperor Hirohito and Japan’s first post-war monarch, expressed “profound remorse” at the official war death ceremony last year, the first since he inherited the throne after his father Akihito abdicated .
Abe, who has taken a less apologetic stance on the war, promised last year “never to repeat the devastation of war” but did not repeat the emperor’s remorse.
About 530 people, including relatives of war dead, are expected to attend the government-sponsored ceremony, up from more than 6,000 the previous year.
Everyone including Naruhito and Empress Masako must wear masks, seats must be at least three feet apart, and a musical performance replaces the singing of the national anthem.
Naruhito’s public appearance on Saturday is his first since a press conference in February on his birthday, as the pandemic kept him and Empress Masako at home.
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski and Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Adaptation by William Mallard