The U.S. State Department on Wednesday stressed the importance of handling historical issues in a way that "promotes healing and reconciliation" after Japan's new defense minister refused to rule out the possibility of paying respect at a Tokyo shrine honoring war criminals.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said in her first press conference that whether to visit the Yasukuni Shrine is a "matter of the heart," leaving open the possibility of visiting the controversial shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including Class A criminals.
Inada has frequently visited the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Visits to the shrine have long been a key source of tension between Japan and its neighbors South Korea and China. The neighboring countries view the shrine as a key symbol of Japan's militaristic past and have denounced visits there as an attempt to glorify the country's wartime wrongdoing.
"We continue to emphasize the importance of approaching historical legacy in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation. And that's always been our position regarding the shrine," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said at a regular briefing when asked about the possibility of Inada's visit to the shrine.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo had been at one of the lowest ebbs for many years, but began to improve in the wake of December's breakthrough agreement on resolving the issue of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women for its troops during World War II. (Yonhap)