Japanese PM Shinzo Abe set off a diplomatic furor today with a visit to a shrine to Japan's World War II dead—including no shortage of war criminals—that has China and South Korea sputtering in rage. Dressed to the nines and appearing on live television, Abe entered the Yasukuni shrine this morning in order to, as he put it, "pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and (hope) that they rest in peace." And seemingly fully aware of the hornet's nest he was kicking, he added: "I have no intention to neglect the feelings of the people in China and South Korea." China instantly deemed the visit "absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people," notes the BBC, while South Korea is expressing "regret and anger."
The US State Department has also jumped in, saying it is "disappointed" with Abe's move, which will "exacerbate tensions" in the region. It's the first such visit in seven years, but what was Abe thinking? NPR thinks the prime minister, a staunch nationalist looking to introduce a "first-strike capability" to his nation's national security strategy, knew exactly what he was doing. An expert earlier this week said of Abe, "What we're seeing is the first move towards Japan really shedding that pacifist post-war stance and taking a much more proactive defensive posture." Another says that with the shrine visit, Abe is "showing he is a tough guy," a move that the BBC says "plays very well with his base." Quartz runs down a list of winners and losers of the visit, noting that "the true implications are likely to play out over a much longer timespan."