China and South Korea called for Japan to reflect on its history of aggression, a day after Tokyo confirmed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a message to a ceremony honoring World War II-era Japanese war criminals.
Prime Minister Abe’s note was read at an April ceremony held at a temple in western Japan to honor hundreds of convicted and suspected war criminals. In the note, Abe expressed grief for the death of the wartime leaders, who he said "sacrificed their souls to become the foundation of the country."
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday acknowledged Abe sent the note, but said the move was made in his capacity as head of Japan's ruling party, and not as prime minister.
On Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang called on Japan to “make a clean break with militarism” in order to help provide a foundation for better relations with its Asian neighbors.
South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said Seoul is “deeply concerned” about Abe’s gesture.
“Minister Abe’s recent remarks on war criminals is an act of denying the post-war order and makes [the South Korean government] doubt the sincerity of regret and apologies that have been expressed by the Japanese government,” said Noh.
The top leaders of China and South Korea have refused to meet with Prime Minister Abe since he visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 "Class A" war criminals.
Chinese and Koreans were among the primary victims of Japanese imperial aggression during the late 19th to mid 20th centuries.
Abe and other Japanese officials have defended the visits by saying they are not meant to hurt the feelings of the victims of Japanese aggression, but are intended to honor the country's war dead.