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Japan Criticized by East Asian Neighbors for Visit to Controversial WWII Shrine

FILE - Visitors pray at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 17, 2016.
FILE - Visitors pray at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 17, 2016.

Japan is being roundly criticized by neighboring countries after its top military official Thursday visited a controversial shrine that honors its war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine drew sharp rebukes from China and South Korea, which consider the shrine a symbol of Japan's wartime atrocities before and after World War II, when it colonized or invaded much of the East Asia region.

"Regardless of differences in historical views, regardless of whether they fought as enemies or allies, I believe any country can understand that we wish to express gratitude, respect and gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for their countries," Inada told reporters after the visit.

China's relationship with Japan has been strained by what China sees as Japan's reluctance to apologize for the country's past. China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, voiced disapproval of the visit, saying, "This not only reflects some Japanese people's obstinately wrong view of history, it also forms a great irony with the Pearl Harbor reconciliation trip."

Earlier this week, Inada accompanied Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a historic visit to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, home to the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, bringing the United States into World War II.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Inada's visit to Yasukuni was "deplorable," and that Inada visited a shrine that "beautifies past colonial invasions and invasive war and honors war criminals."

Inada's visit to Yasukuni was her first since becoming defense minister in August, although she has visited it numerous times in the past.

She has defended Japan's wartime atrocities and led a committee tasked reevaluating the judgements of wartime judicial panels that were led by the victorious allies of World War II.