August 15, 2006
ALEXANDER Downer Tuesday openly criticised the Japanese prime minister for visiting a controversial World War II shrine because among those honoured at the site was a "class A" war criminal.
In tougher comments than those made in Japan two weeks ago, the Australian Foreign Minister said Junichiro Koizumi's pilgrimage to the shrine made people feel the Japanese were not showing respect to the dead from other nations.
"From Australia's point of view we understand the prime minister of Japan wanting to show respect to Japanese soldiers killed in the second world war, whatever the rights and wrongs of the second world war and we (Australia) have very strong views about that history," he said during a photo-opportunity with the South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon.
"Our concern has been the presence of the remains of Class A war criminals also in the Yasakuni shrine and I said to the Japanese prime minister - that's what makes people around the region and around the world feel uncomfortable, not the paying of respect to soldiers who died in the second world war but the fact that included in the shrine are the remains of several Class A war criminals."
"He (Koizumi) told me, he understood that point of view but that in Japan it wasn't possible to separate souls in a way we might understand in our own culture.
"Of course what makes us uncomfortable about this issue, is the presence of the Class A war criminals."
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon expressed anger and dismay at the visit which he said was especially disturbing because it happened on South Korean independence day.
He said Korea hoped future leaders of Japan would stop visiting the shrine.
South Korean people were "frustrated and angry" at the visit and so were other East Asian nations including China, he said.