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(2nd LD) S. Korea voices 'deep regrets' over Kishida's ritual offering to war shrine

Diplomacy 14:45 October 17, 2021

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with S. Korea's response; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea expressed deep regrets Sunday over Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's ritual offering to a controversial war shrine in the latest move that underscores challenges in improving bilateral relations, just two days after their leaders agreed to develop their ties in a future-oriented manner.

Kishida sent a "masakaki" tree to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo earlier in the day to celebrate its two-day autumn festival that runs through Monday, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency and South Korean foreign ministry officials.

It marked the first time Kishida has sent an offering to the shrine, seen as a symbol of the country's past militarism, since he took office earlier this month. Kishida stopped short of visiting in person, but his immediate predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, visited the shrine earlier in the day, they added.

"The government expresses deep disappointment and regrets that Japanese leaders again sent the offering or repeated their visits to the Yasukuni Shrine," Seoul's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class-A criminals from World War II.

Visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders have long been a key source of tension in the region as Asian neighbors, like South Korea and China that suffered from Japanese aggression in the early part of the 20th century, view the visits as an attempt to beautify the country's militaristic past.

South Korea also pressed Japanese leaders to "squarely face history and show by action their humble introspection on and genuine self-reflection for the past history."

South Korea and Japan are close economic partners and key allies of the United States, though they have long been in conflict over territory and other historical disputes stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45.

On Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kishida held their first phone call and agreed to accelerate the bilateral diplomatic consultations to resolve a prolonged feud over wartime forced labor and to develop their ties "in a future-oriented manner."

This AFP photo shows Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida holding a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 14, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This Kyodo news photo shows a "masakaki" tree Japanese Prime Minister sent to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on Oct. 17, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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