US 'disappointed' by Japan PM's visit to controversial shrine

The United States expressed disappointment Thursday over the Japanese prime minister’s decision to visit a controversial shrine.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s dead — including those considered war criminals — from World War II.

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“Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said in a statement.

China and South Korea immediately protested the visit because the shrine exemplifies Japan’s “brutal aggression” during World War II, as The Associated Press notes.   

Abe’s visit was the first a Japanese prime minister has made there in seven years.

“I prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace. ... I have no intention to neglect the feelings of the people in China and South Korea,” Abe said during the visit, according to the AP.

China issued a sharp rebuke of the visit on Thursday.

“The Chinese government expresses its strong indignation over the behavior of the Japanese leader, which grossly tramples on the sentiment of the Chinese people and other Asian peoples victimized in the war and openly challenges the historical justice and human conscience, and lodges a strong protest and severe condemnation against the Japanese side,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. 

Tensions in the region were recently heightened because of China's self-imposed air defense zone that covers an area Japan also claims.

Despite the shrine visit, the U.S. said it hopes Japan and its neighbors can deal with “sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote cooperation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability.”