BEIJING – China on Monday accused Japan's prime minister of hypocrisy and said he would not be welcome in China after he visited a shrine honoring Japan's war dead, the latest sign of worsening ties between the two nations.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo had seriously hurt relations between the countries and shut the door for dialogue between their leaders.
"Abe's hypocrisy in his claims of prioritizing relations with China and hopes for dialogue with the Chinese leaders has been fully revealed," Qin said at a regular briefing.
"The Chinese people do not welcome him. Now, Abe needs to admit his mistakes to the government and people of China, cut loose from the past and make a new start," he said.
Abe's war shrine visit and China's reaction escalated tensions already running high over a festering territorial dispute. Relations sank to a new low recently after China announced an air defense identification zone that covers a string of uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
Tokyo has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the islands dispute. But Monday's comments show how the shrine visit has added another reason for China to reject talks between President Xi Jinping and Abe on the issue. Xi and Abe had a five-minute exchange on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Russia in September.
Beijing's remarks add to the steady drumbeat of criticism that Beijing has kept up against Abe since the shrine visit last Thursday. China's foreign minister summoned Japan's ambassador to protest, while other spokespeople from the foreign service and the defense ministry issued scathing criticisms.
Japanese politicians' visits to Yasukuni have long caused friction with China and both Koreas, because the 2.5 million war dead enshrined there include 14 class A war criminals from World War II — national leaders who were either executed or died in prison or during their trials. Japan colonized Korea and occupied parts of China, often brutally, before and during World War II.
"They are the people who masterminded, launched and carried out the war of aggression against China," China's Qin said of the Japanese war criminals. "Their hands are covered with the blood of the victimized peoples. They are fascists. They are the Nazis of Asia."
It was the first visit to the Shinto-style war shrine by a sitting Japanese prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006 to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II. Abe, a nationalist who advocates revising Japan's pacifist constitution, had previously visited Yasukuni while out of office.
In Washington, Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said her government was disappointed by Abe's actions.
"Japan is of course a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, in this case, we were disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors," Harf said in a statement.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday also urged Japan not to impair bilateral ties by opening up past colonial wounds.
"I hope that there won't be any act of breaking down country-to-country relations ... by digging up the wounds of the past," Park said during a regular meeting with her aides, according to South Korean media pool reports posted on the website of her office.
Park didn't cite Japan by name but Park's office said she was referring to Japan.
Also Monday, North Korea's state media said that Abe's shrine visit was tantamount to a "declaration of war" against people in Asia and the rest of the world.
"Japan has now turned into a war state deviating to the right and fascism," the official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.
Abe has previously said criticism that visits to Yasukuni are an act of worshipping war criminals is based on a misunderstanding. He said he did not intend to hurt the Chinese and Korean people's feelings and expressed conviction that Japan must never wage war again.