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Shrine visit seen key in Japan-China ties
Updated: 2006-02-18 20:54

While the question of who will succeed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after he steps down in September is still a mystery, China will likely pay close attention to one point -- whether the new premier will visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

Chinese experts underscored the importance of the issue in recent interviews, saying trips to the shrine, seen by China as a symbol of Japan's militarist past, remain the largest obstacle in ties between the two neighbors.
Shrine visit seen key in Japan-China ties
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks at a New Year's news conference at the premier's official residence in Tokyo January 4, 2006.[Reuters]
"The biggest problem for us is the fact that the shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals, who represent Japan's militarism," said Wu Jianmin, a former diplomat and president of China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.

The shrine visits are being increasingly criticized not only by people in China, but also by people in other countries including European nations, Wu said.

"We urge the Japanese leader not to visit Yasukuni Shrine, and believe the logic for this request is in line with the common values held by those who oppose fascism all over the world," he said.

Halting the shrine visits "would not constitute Japan's compromise under the pressure of China," Wu added. "What it would be is (Japan's) return to the common values held by all."

Koizumi has visited Yasukuni Shrine once a year since taking office in 2001. It enshrines the 14 war criminals along with 2.47 million who died in wars dating back to the late 19th century.

China has complained bitterly about the trips to the shrine and has refused holding top-level meetings with Japan after Koizumi's latest homage to the shrine in October last year.

South Korea, another country that suffered under Japan's wartime militarism, has also criticized Koizumi's shrine visits.

But while Seoul has said that summits between the two countries could not be held if Koizumi's successor continues paying homage at the shrine, Beijing has yet to make clear what it plans to do if that happens.

Wu said that the question of who becomes the next premier is Japan's internal affair. But "whoever it will be, we hope that the person will return to the common values of anti-fascism," he said.

Koizumi has said he plans to leave office when his term as president of the ruling LDP expires on Sept. 30. His successor as LDP head, to be elected by a party vote, is almost certain to take over as Japan's prime minister.

Some of the leading candidates to succeed him -- including Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe -- are supporters of visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

If Koizumi's successor continues to pay homage to the shrine, "the possibility of Sino-Japanese relations improving will not be large," said Jia Qingguo, professor at Peking University.

"The Yasukuni Shrine issue is politically symbolic, and if you go, it shows that you lack the sincerity toward improving Sino-Japanese relations," Jia said.

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