Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a Twitter post Saturday he visited the war-linked Yasukuni shrine days after stepping down from the post, his first visit in nearly seven years.
The visit to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo, viewed by Japan's neighbors, including China, as a symbol of its past militarism because it honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead, prompted a negative reaction from South Korea.
"Today, I paid a visit to the Yasukuni shrine and reported to the souls of the war dead that I resigned as prime minister on Sept. 16," Abe tweeted with a photo of himself escorted by a priest.
本日、靖国神社を参拝し、今月16日に内閣総理大臣を退任したことをご英霊にご報告いたしました。 pic.twitter.com/ZpyrtLrpRE— 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) September 19, 2020
Abe, who stepped down for health reasons, previously visited the shrine in December 2013, a year after the start of his second stint in office, provoking a strong response from Beijing and Seoul, and disappointing Japan's key ally the United States.
The 2013 visit was the first by a Japanese political leader since that of Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is unlikely to make such a visit, political analysts said.
While refraining from visiting, Abe regularly sent ritual offerings to the shrine in his capacity as the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for its spring and autumn festivals and on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
He signed the guest register as "former prime minister" this time around, according to a source close to the matter.
In a commentary on Saturday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed "deep worries and regrets" over Abe's Yasukuni visit. The statement described the shrine as a symbolic site that "glorifies Japan's colonial rule and its war of aggression."
The South Korean government "sternly points out once again" that Japan's neighbors can trust it only if Japanese leaders face history squarely and reflect on it sincerely through their actions, the commentary said.
With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, four Cabinet members, including Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and education minister Koichi Hagiuda, visited the shrine on Aug. 15. Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Koizumi, and Hagiuda were retained in the new Cabinet formed by Suga.
Established in 1869 to commemorate those who gave their lives for Japan, Yasukuni in 1978 added wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other convicted war criminals to the more than 2.4 million war dead enshrined there.