Visitors flock to China memorial to Japanese official's assassin

BEIJING - A memorial to a Korean who assassinated a Japanese official more than a century ago has drawn a flood of visitors since it opened in China in January despite Japanese criticism.

In a report that could rile Japan, China's state news agency Xinhua said more than 50,000 people had visited the memorial in Harbin, the capital of the northeastern Heilongjiang province.

The Chinese memorial marks the 1909 action of Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean branded a terrorist by Japan, who killed Hirobumi Ito, a former top Japanese official in Korea, which was occupied by Japan at the time.

Ahn is seen in Korea as a symbol of the fight against Japanese colonial rule. Ito served four terms as Japanese prime minister and is viewed as a key architect of its first constitution. "Chinese accounted for about 60 per cent of tourists, and nationals from the Republic of Korea made up 30 per cent of visitors," Xinhua said. "Ahn was arrested at the scene of the shooting and secretly executed in March 1910 by Japanese forces," it added.

Admission is free to the memorial at the Harbin railway station where Ahn shot Ito, and which tells his life's story. Xinhua did not say if the visitors included regular travellers at the railway station.

Korea and China both suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonised from 1910 to 1945.

China's ties with Japan have long been coloured by what Beijing considers Tokyo's failure to atone for its brutal wartime occupation of parts of the country and what it sees as whitewashing of atrocities in school textbooks.

Relations between China and Japan have deteriorated in recent years due to a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honoured among war dead. At the time the memorial opened in January, Japan said the move did not help repair frayed relations.