BEIJING - China said on Monday that its leaders will not meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his visit to a shrine seen by critics as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime aggression, underscoring the deteriorating ties between Asia’s two biggest economies.
Abe had repeated his hopes for talks with Beijing last week, when he visited the Yasukuni shrine where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after World War Two are honoured along with those who died in battle.
The visit infuriated China and South Korea, both of which were occupied by Japanese forces until the end of the war, and prompted concern from the United States about rising tensions between the North Asian neighbours.
Abe said then that relations with China and South Korea were important and he hoped “for an opportunity to explain to China and South Korea that strengthening ties would be in the national interest”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a daily news briefing that “Abe has himself shut the door on talks with Chinese leaders”.
“Since assuming office, Abe has miscalculated on Sino-Japan ties, and made mistake after mistake, especially visiting the Yasukuni Shrine which houses ‘Class A’ war criminals. These people are fascists, the Nazis of Asia,” he said. “Of course the Chinese people don’t welcome such a Japanese leader, and Chinese leaders will not meet him.” Qin called on Abe to “admit his mistakes to the Chinese government and people”. South Korea said it would not now take part in talks on shared defence and intelligence agreements Seoul and Tokyo had been planning to hold next month.
“I hope there would be no acts next year which destroy trust between two countries or worsen the public sentiment by digging up the wounds of the past,” President Park Geun-hye said in a meeting with aides, reported by the Yonhap news agency.
It was the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving Japanese prime minister since 2006.
Ties between Japan and China were already precarious due to a simmering row over ownership of a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. China has said it is willing to talk to Japan about the issue, but has accused Abe of not being serious about wanting to resolve the dispute.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni during his 2001-2006 tenure were a major factor in a chill in ties between China and Japan. Abe, who succeeded Koizumi in 2006, repaired frayed ties with China then with a summit meeting, but has since said he regretted not visiting the shrine during his first 2006-2007 term.
Abe has called for dialogue with China since returning to power a year ago, but Beijing had shown no inclination to respond to those overtures even before the latest Yasukuni controversy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Abe did meet briefly on two occasions this year - at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali in October and on the fringes of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg in September.