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US encouraging calm after latest visit by Japanese official to Yasukuni Shrine

This small shrine is part of the Chinreisha, which is hidden in the woods surrounding Yasukuni Shrine. This particular temple is dedicated to the American, British, Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian war dead from the Pacific War.

TOKYO — A State Department spokeswoman says the United States is focused on diplomatic dialogue between Japan and its neighbors, after a second senior Japanese official visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

Yoshitaka Shindo, Japan’s minister of internal affairs and communication, went to Yasukuni on Jan. 1, a day when people all over Japan typically visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. On Dec. 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine, whose 2.5 million enshrined servicemembers include several people convicted of war crimes following World War II.

Both visits triggered swift criticism from South Korea and China, further tattering frayed regional relationships.

Although the U.S. issued a statement Dec. 26 stating it was “disappointed” with Abe’s decision, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf concentrated her comments on reconciliation Thursday.

“Obviously, last week we talked about this with Mr. Abe,” Harf said during a press conference Thursday. “This is a different person, different position. What we’re focused on now is encouraging Japan to resolve these issues diplomatically through dialogue and moving forward.

“We believe that strongly constructive relations between countries in the region are what will promote peace and stability and are in the interests of these countries, but also in the interest of the United States,” Harf added.

The conflict over the Yasukuni visits puts the United States in a difficult position, because it maintains security alliances with both Japan and South Korea. The Yasukuni visits remind many South Koreans of Japan’s imperial past and its later actions during WWII.

China’s foreign minister said recently that Abe was not welcome in China following his Yasukuni visit.

Beijing later “strongly protested” Shindo’s visit.

“This is another provocative action taken by the Japanese Cabinet member following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s blatant visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which reveals once again the dangerous move of Japan who attempts to defend militarist war criminals and challenge the outcome of the world anti-fascist war and the post-war international order,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said

Abe and other Japanese officials say the visits are not intended to stoke anger among their neighbors.

A visit from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2006 drew similar condemnation, but tensions with China were far lower at the time. Renewed dispute over East China Sea islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China, has led to both nations scrambling their fighter jets near the islands, among other confrontational moves.

Shindo told reporters at the shrine that he considered the visit a matter of conscience, according to media reports.

Japanese reports said Shindo is the grandson of Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who led Japanese forces on Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi was Japan’s defense attaché to the United States in the 1920s and was later portrayed by Ken Watanabe in Clint Eastwood’s film “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

“I have renewed my wish for peace, hoping that the war shall not be repeated again,” Shindo said.

slavin.erik@stripes.com

Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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