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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Asian neighbours protest as Japan PM sends offering to shrine for war dead

Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged Beijing and Seoul because it honours convicted war criminals

Visitors holding Japanese national flags and a rising sun flag shout 'Banzai' after offering one minute silent prayers for the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo as Japan marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Second World War on August. 15, 2017. the shrine also honours 14 convicted war criminals.  Kimimasa Mayam / EPA
Visitors holding Japanese national flags and a rising sun flag shout 'Banzai' after offering one minute silent prayers for the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo as Japan marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Second World War on August. 15, 2017. the shrine also honours 14 convicted war criminals. Kimimasa Mayam / EPA

China and South Korea called on Japan to face up to its wartime past after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to a shrine to war dead on Tuesday, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in the Second World War.rld War Two surrender.

Politician Masahiko Shibayama, who made the offering on Mr Abe's behalf, said he did so to express condolences for those who died in the war and to pray for peace. He added Mr Abe said he was sorry he could not visit the Yasukuni shrine.

Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged Beijing and Seoul because along with other war dead, it honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes by an Allied tribunal. At times, the resulting chill in relations arising from the visits has lasted months.

China's relations with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during the Second World War. Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945.

But maintaining harmony with China and South Korea is now more important than ever amid heightened tensions in the wake of North Korean missile tests, threats from North Korea to strike at the area around the American US Pacific territory of Guam and US president Donald Trump's warning of retaliation.

"After the war, our country has consistently taken steps as a country that abhors war and treasures peace, and has made efforts to promote the peace and prosperity of the world," Mr Abe said at a national ceremony. "We intend to keep this immovable policy firmly, throughout the ages, while facing history with humility."

Dozens of Japanese parliamentarians visited the shrine along with scores of ordinary Japanese, prompting protests from the South Korean and Chinese governments.

"We express our deep concerns that responsible leaders of Japan's government and parliament are again paying tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine and visiting the shrine that glorifies the history of the war of aggression," South Korea's foreign ministry said.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China resolutely opposed Japan's "wrong actions" over the shrine.

"China urges Japan to earnestly face up to and deeply reflect upon its history of militarism," she said.

Mr Abe visited Yasukuni in 2013, an action that prompted criticism from key ally the United States as well as from Asian nations, but has since only sent offerings on August 15 and during Yasukuni's twice yearly festivals.

Tensions in the region weighed on the minds of many who visited the shrine.

"I am furious about the threat from North Korea," said Katsuhiko Ikeda, 78. "North Korea's missile threat towards Guam means anything would pass by Japan, and if anything happened, it could affect us."

Elsewhere in Japan, an act of reconciliation took place on Tuesday when a American war veteran Marvin Strombo returned a fallen Japanese soldier's flag to his siblings.

Mr Strombo, 93, took the flag from the body of Sadao Yasue as a souvenir. On it were written wishes for a safe return from the Japanese soldier's family and Mr Strombo vowed to return it to them one day.Yasue was conscripted in 1943 and was killed in combat on the Pacific island of Saipan in 1944. His body was never returned to his siblings. The Japanese authorities gave them only a wooden box containing a few rocks as a substitute for the reamins that were never found. The flag is the first tangible trace they have ever had of their dead brother.

Yasue's younger brother Tatsuya, 89, thanked Mr Strombo for keeping the flag in such good condition for 73 years. He also thanked the American war veteran for staying healthy enough to make the lengthy journey at age 93 from Montana in the US to the Yasue home in a small mountain village in central Japan.

After Tuesday's emotional handover ceremony at a village community hall, Mr Strombo said, "It means so much to me and to the family to get the flag back and move on. "

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