SEOUL — South Korean lawmakers have condemned Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's visit to a controversial shrine honoring World War II dead, including war criminals. The denunciation is the latest sign of the diplomatic falling out that has seen Japan's relations with South Korea and China reach a new low.
South Korea's National Assembly on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution denouncing Abe's visit last week to the Yasukuni war shrine.
The shrine symbolically entombs the spirits of Japan's 2.5 million killed in World War II, including 14 officers found guilty of, or on trial when they died for, war crimes.
China and the two Koreas, which suffered heavily during the war, consider visits there by politicians an insult.
Park Byung-seok, Deputy Chairman of South Korea's National Assembly, said that all 211 lawmakers present voted in favor of the resolution.
The Japanese prime minister's visit to Yasukuni was widely slammed in Chinese and South Korean media as an insult that would further set back already frosty relations.
Not to be outdone, North Korea on Monday called Abe's visit tantamount to a declaration of war. The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Japan's right-wing politicians were courting self-destruction.
The South Korean lawmakers' declaration is the most formal condemnation yet of Abe. It follows China's announcement on Monday it would shun the Japanese leader despite his attempts to hold a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye also refuses to meet with Abe because of a territorial dispute and what the South Korean leader sees as attempts to conceal Japans' colonial and war-time aggression.
Abe defended his visit to the shrine, saying it was a personal one and was not intended to upset China or South Korea. Instead, he hoped the visit would remind the world that Japan would never again go to war.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Japan's Temple University, thinks Abe made a shrewd political calculation. He said the Japanese leader’s visit was aimed at gathering domestic support for his policies amid dwindling popularity at home.
“So, in provoking China and South Korea in this way I think he believes that this will actually put wind in his sails. That China acting as the regional bully, blustering and condemning Japan will actually create sort of a 'circling of the wagons' mentality among the Japanese. And so, his more assertive security policy, which in general is not very popular among Japanese, will get sort of some support that it probably wouldn't otherwise have,” said Kingston.
Kingston also said that with growing tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea, Abe's action irresponsibly raises tensions.
China's abrupt November declaration of an extended Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over disputed islands in the sea raised alarms as well.
Beijing demanded all aircraft entering the zone to first declare flight plans, a policy that was firmly rejected by Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned China's unilateral action raised the risk for miscalculation and mistakes.
Washington expressed its disappointment with Abe's visit to Yasukuni, pointing out that it would raise tensions with Japan's neighbors.
Kingston said Japan-China trade is also put at risk by Abe's Yasukuni visit, which was the first by a sitting prime minister in Japan in seven years.
“There was last year some spill-over into Sino-Japanese trade. There was an overall decline. And so, there is a real risk that this will lead to further decline in Sino-Japanese trade. And, China is Japan's biggest trading partner. And, China represents growth for Japan's industries. So, I imagine many big business leaders here are scratching their heads and wondering 'why now Mr. Abe?'” said Kingston.
The diplomatic repercussions from Yasukuni could also affect regional security concerns, as relations between the two U.S. allies continue to deteriorate.
The Yonhap news agency reported that Seoul cancelled defense and security talks with Tokyo and planned military exchange programs.