August 20, 2006

China tells Japan shrine visits block ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's relations with Japan would
remain at low ebb as long as Japanese leaders continued
visiting a Tokyo shrine for war dead, a senior Chinese diplomat
said on Sunday, driving home Beijing's displeasure.

State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told the honorary leader of
Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, Doi Takako, that
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Tuesday visit to
the Yasukuni Shrine had "seriously affected the improvement of
China-Japan relations," the official Xinhua news agency

The Shinto shrine includes Japanese World War Two leaders
convicted as war criminals among the 2.5 million war dead it
honors, and is considered a symbol of Japan's past militarism
by China and North Korea, which bore the brunt of Japanese

Koizumi's visit on the anniversary of his country's World
War Two surrender drew swift condemnation from Beijing, Seoul
and other regional capitals.

On Sunday, Tang repeated that criticism but leavened it
with offers of warmer ties -- if Japanese leaders drop the
shrine visits.

"The Chinese side will continue to work for breaking the
deadlock of Sino-Japanese relations," Tang - a former foreign
minister and ambassador to Tokyo - told Doi, visiting Beijing.

Tang said the two countries should seek to put relations
"back onto a normal development track." Tang serves as a senior
policy adviser.

Koizumi is set to step down in September and his heir
apparent, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has declined to
say whether he would visit the shrine if he became prime

Many observers believe China holds out some hope that Abe
will adopt a less abrasive approach to relations and avoid
visits to the shrine.