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July 23, 2017

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China memorial to Korea hero angers Japan

BEIJING -- A new Asian diplomatic dispute broke out 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."

China fired back by hailing Ahn Jung-geun as "a famous anti-Japanese high-minded person," while Seoul called him a "hero."

In 1909 Ahn 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 spokesperson, said Monday that Tokyo had told Beijing and Seoul it considered the monument "extremely regrettable."

"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.

In response Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday defended the memorial as "completely reasonable and justified."

He described Ahn as "a famous anti-Japanese high-minded person" who "is also respected by the Chinese people."

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.

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