BEIJING: A new Asian diplomatic row broke out on Monday after China unveiled a memorial to a Korean national hero who assassinated a Japanese official a century ago—with Tokyo condemning him as a “terrorist.”
In 1909, Ahn Jung-Geun shot and killed Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister and its top official in Japanese-occupied Korea, at the railway station in the northeast Chinese city of Harbin.
Ahn was hanged by Japanese forces the following year, when Korea also formally became a Japanese colony, heralding a brutal occupation that lasted until the end of World War II in 1945.
A joint Chinese-South Korean memorial hall in Ahn’s honor was unveiled at the train station on Sunday.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, said Monday that
Tokyo had conveyed its regret to Beijing and Seoul over the monument.
“We recognize Ahn Jung-Geun as a terrorist who was sentenced to death for killing our country’s first prime minister,” Suga said.
“I cannot help saying that it is not contributing to building peace and cooperative relations in this region that South Korea and China took the joint cross-border move based on unilateral evaluation on a matter that happened in the previous century,” he added.
Political relations between China, Japan and South Korea—Asia’s first, second and fourth-largest economies—are heavily colored by 20th-century history, when Tokyo’s imperial forces rampaged across the region.
Beijing and Tokyo are embroiled in a bitter row over disputed islands in the East China Sea, and tensions rose further last month when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a controversial shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including indicted war criminals.
In an echo of Abe’s comments after his appearance at the Yasukuni shrine, Chinese and South Korean officials hailed the memorial to Ahn and contended that it was intended not to provoke a diplomatic row, but rather to promote peace.