JAPAN - Shinzo Abe stunned the international community on Thursday by making himself the first sitting Japanese prime minister in seven years to visit a shrine that honors 14 World War II Class A war criminals among the country's war dead.
The abrupt move - widely viewed as rewriting public memory on Japan's militaristic past - enraged Japan's victimized neighbours including China and South Korea and disappointed Japan's traditional ally the United States.
Observers said the hard-core nationalist Abe is ruining the stability of Northeast Asia and that he seems to believe it is worthwhile to sacrifice honesty about history in order to revitalize Japan's assertive style of expansion before World War II.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi summoned Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera to lodge a strong protest on Thursday. Beijing vowed zerotolerance for Abe's touching the bottom of the bilateral relationship, and for betraying the commitment of his government and his predecessors, he said.
Japan must bear "full responsibility for the serious political consequences" of the visit, he said, adding Abe's action has pushed Japan in an "extremely dangerous" direction.
The shrine used to serve as a spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese militaristic aggression, and Abe's pilgrimage is "a flagrant provocation against international justice", Wang said.
South Korean Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong said in a statement that "our government cannot repress lamentation and rage over Abe's paying of respects at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies its colonial aggression and enshrines war criminals".
A few hours after Abe went to the shrine, the US Embassy in Japan released a written statement saying that "the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbours."
Washington hopes that Japan and its neighbours will "find constructive ways" to deal with sensitive issues from the past, the statement said.
Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe's visit will deal a heavy blow to Japan's international image and further isolate the country.