China has threatened Japan with a “grave and negative impact” on bilateral relations after Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, sent a potted plant as a spring offering to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japan’s war dead.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing had indicated “grave concern and dissatisfaction” through diplomatic channels, and warned that “any erroneous moves by Japan will produce grave and negative impact on bilateral relations.”
When asked whether Beijing would cancel an imminent visit to China by Taro Aso, the Foreign Ministry refused to answer, saying only that “relevant information will be released in due course.”
The Japanese government said the prime minister still plans to visit China next week as scheduled.
In a separate statement, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong regret” over Mr Aso’s offering.
The strong Chinese reaction raises the prospect of souring relations between the world’s second and third-largest economies at a time of economic crisis and rising tension on the Korean peninsula.
But Beijing’s blustery rhetoric is not new and was milder than on past occasions when Japanese officials have visited the controversial shrine, which honours millions of war dead as well as the remains of Japanese leaders executed as war criminals by the allies after the second world war.
China, Korea and some other Asian countries see the Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past and the country’s lack of contrition for wartime atrocities.