China on Thursday condemned Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine, saying the gesture is "a major new political obstacle" to the already strained relations.
"(We) strongly protest and condemn the Japanese leader's wrongdoing, which has deeply hurt the feelings of Asian war victims," Xinhua quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying after Abe's visit to the Shinto war memorial shrine, where 14 "WWII class-A war criminals" are among the individuals honoured.
Abe's visit is the first by a serving Japanese prime minister since 2006. Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine during his tenure from 2001 to 2006 were a major factor that affected ties between Japan and its Asian neighbours.
Japanese aggression brought atrocities to China and other Asian countries and deeply hurt the Japanese people, Qin said.
Qin labelled the Yasukuni shrine as "a spiritual tool and symbol" of Japanese aggression in WWII.
Abe's visit to the shrine whitewashes Japanese aggression and colonial rule, overthrows the international community's trial of Japanese militarism and challenges the post-war international order, said the spokesman.
Qin said China-Japan relations have faced "severe difficulties" since the Japanese government announced in September 2012 its plan to "purchase" part of the Diaoyu Islands, a move that has contributed to the disintegration of bilateral relations.
"In such circumstances, Japanese leaders showed no restraint, but went from bad to worse, making serious trouble on historical problems, which erect a major new political obstacle to the improvement and development of China-Japan relations," the spokesman said, adding that Japan must "take on all the consequence".
Officials with the Chinese foreign ministry and the Chinese ambassador in Japan will make solemn representations to the Japanese ambassador in China and Japan's foreign ministry, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
The government of South Korea also warned Thursday that relations with Japan will tailspin to a historic low due to Abe's shrine visit.
"Only if Japan faces up to and deeply reflects on the invasion history, takes the history as a mirror, can it develop a relationship oriented to the future with its Asian neighbours," Qin said.