November 26, 2005

Japanese minister raps China, S.Korea over shrine

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's foreign minister criticized China
and South Korea for protesting against Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine for the war dead,
media reports said on Sunday.

Reports quoted Foreign Minister Taro Aso as also saying
that Japan should not worry about how it is viewed by other
countries or whether it has become isolated.

"The only countries in the world that talk about Yasukuni
are China and South Korea," financial daily Nihon Keizai
Shimbun (Nikkei) quoted Aso as saying, referring to the
Yasukuni shrine, which honors some convicted war criminals
including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo along with Japan's
war dead.

"We don't have to worry about whether Japan is isolated or
is not being liked," Aso said in a speech on Saturday, Nikkei

The 65-year-old Aso is an outspoken member of the ruling
party's conservative camp known for his plain-talking ways, and
has landed himself in hot water over remarks regarding Japan's
past record in Asia.

In May 2003, Aso caused an uproar in South Korea after he
made comments that were interpreted as an attempt to justify
some of the actions Japan imposed on the Koreans during its
1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

Japan forced Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones
during the time, but Aso said that the measure initially began
when some Koreans had asked for Japanese names.

Tokyo's ties with Beijing and Seoul have soured after
Koizumi took office in 2001 and began his annual visit to
Yasukuni, which China and South Korea see as a symbol of
Japan's past militarism.

Koizumi, who says he makes the pilgrimages to pray for
peace and honor the war dead, last went in October, triggering
protests from the two Asian neighbors.

Earlier this month, China turned down Japan's request to
hold a meeting between their leaders at the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation summit in South Korea.

No formal Japan-China summit has been held since Koizumi
took office, although he has met Chinese leaders on the
sidelines of international gatherings.