August 7, 2006

Japan shrine debate grows before WWII anniversary

By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - China urged Japan on Monday to stop
visits by its leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, as
speculation grew that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would
make a pilgrimage next week on the anniversary of Japan's World
War Two surrender.

South Korea, which also suffered under Japanese military
aggression, is expected to make a similar demand this week when
its foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon, visits Tokyo.

Tokyo's relations with both Beijing and Seoul have been
damaged by Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni since he took
office in 2001, and are likely to worsen further if he pays his
respects there on August 15.

"We want top Japanese officials to call an immediate halt
to visits to Yasukuni, where Class A war criminals are
enshrined," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao
told reporters during a visit to Tokyo. "Dealing with the
history problem based on a correct view of history will be to
the benefit of both the Japanese and Chinese peoples," he

Yasukuni is seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan's
past militarism. Fourteen wartime leaders convicted by an
Allied tribunal as "Class A" war criminals are honored there
along with 2.5 million war dead, and a museum within the shrine
grounds is often criticized as glorifying war.

Last week media reports said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo
Abe, the front-runner to become Japan's next prime minister,
had secretly paid his respects there in April. China has not
specifically criticized the reported pilgrimage by Abe, seen as
the most likely candidate to succeed Koizumi when he steps down
in September.

South Korea's Ban is likely to raise the topic in meetings
with Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso during his visit to
Tokyo this week.

"It may be that people mistakenly believe that China's
attitude toward Yasukuni has changed in some ways," Liu said
when asked why China had not issued an immediate condemnation
last week. "In fact the attitude of the Chinese government and
people to the history problem is consistent and has not

Abe reiterated on Monday that he would not confirm or deny
whether he had made the pilgrimage.

A newspaper survey published on Monday underlined the
decline in ties between Japan and South Korea.

Japan's conservative Yomiuri newspaper and the South Korean
daily Hankook Ilbo surveyed voters in the two countries in late
June and early July.

The poll found 89 percent of South Korean respondents
mistrusted Japan, while 51 percent of Japanese harbored similar
feelings about South Korea, up 17 points from a survey last

Sixty percent of Japanese said it was not a problem if
their prime minister visited Yasukuni, the Yomiuri said, while
a mere 10 percent of South Koreans said such visits were

Yasukuni also divides domestic opinion.

"I understand that he wants to go on the 15th, but when you
think of the implications that come from it, we shouldn't take
it lightly," senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker
Taku Yamasaki told reporters on Monday.