Japan’s defence minister has prayed at a controversial war shrine in the capital, Tokyo, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea.
Tomomi Inada’s visit on Thursday was her first since taking the key defence portfolio in August, though she has frequently gone in the past.
She argued that offering respect to the war dead should be universally accepted, echoing the argument repeated by Japanese politicians who frequently visit Yasukuni.
“By taking a future-oriented stance, I offered my prayers to build peace for Japan and the world,” she said.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Beijing, said: “Inada must have known just how contentious this visit was, but remains unapologetic.”
Inada is a close confidante of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, who said on a golf course that he had “no comment” on her action.
South Korea summoned a senior official from the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest.
“Our government cannot but deplore” the visit, Cho June-hyuck, South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a statement, while in separate comments the defence ministry expressed “grave concern and regret”.
Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said in Beijing that Inada’s visit was “deeply ironic after the so-called Pearl Harbor reconciliation tour”.
On Tuesday Abe and US President Barack Obama honoured the victims of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,403 Americans and led to the US entering World War II.
Inada also attended the US ceremony.
“It will only make the people of the world more on guard against Japan’s actions and intentions,” Hua said, adding that “China is firmly opposed” to the visit.
Yasukuni shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for also enshrining senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.
The indigenous Shinto religious shrine has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism from countries such as South Korea and China, which suffered under Japan’s colonialism and military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.