In an act that has invited harsh condemnation from China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine, where 14 WWII class-A war criminals are honored.
The visit comes at a time when the two countries are embroiled in a bitter row over some islands in the East China Sea, a conflict that has jolted China into seeing every Japanese move with a magnifying glass. Abe's visit to the war-linked shrine on Thursday which honours several convicted Japanese war criminals has left China deeply pondering over Tokyo's war-time aggression that seems to remind Beijing of its opponent's threatening history.
"We strongly protest and condemn the Japanese leader's wrongdoing," China's state run Xinhua News quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying immediately after Abe's visit. He labeled the dreaded shrine as "a spiritual tool and symbol" of Japanese aggression in World War II.
The standoff comes only days after Japan announced its plans to beef up its military arsenal over the next five years, a declaration that was widely seen as measures aimed at countering China.
The first visit to Yasukuni by a serving Japanese prime minister since 2006 was televised live on Thursday, as China watched the event with much dismay. Beijing is angry with Japanese claims over the Diaoyu islands, which Japanese call as the Senkaku Islands. Japan's aggressive history in the WWII has always set China in an apprehensive mode, while Washington's subtle blessings to every action Tokyo takes has only left Beijing simmering in angry tantrums.
"I chose this day to report (to the souls of the dead) what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war," PM Abe said as he visited the shrine.
"I hope for an opportunity to explain to China and South Korea that strengthening ties would be in the national interest."
Chinese spokesman Qin Gang in his quick condemnation against the event, assessed it as a provoking action that "whitewashes Japanese aggression and colonial rule". Japanese militarists' aggression brought atrocities to China and some Asian countries and deeply hurt the Japanese people, Qin said.
He explained that Japanese leader's challenge of justice and historical trend gave its Asian neighbors and the international community every reason to be "highly vigilant and deeply concerned" over what route Japan will follow in the future.
Abe's visit to Yasukuni that commemorates some 2.5 million Japanese men, women and children who died for their country in wars can too easily be interpreted as Japanese actions aimed at reminding Beijing of its military past and prowess. What remains to be seen is how long both the countries will dwell in showmanship and confrontations before resorting to a fulfilling diplomatic solution that will render solace to both sides.