Yasukuni still a thorn in relations

By Sun Shangwu (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-18 07:16

Members of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party yesterday vowed to continue visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, widely seen by the country's Asian neighbors as glorifying Japan's militaristic past.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members declared at their annual convention that: "We will carry on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, to mourn those who sacrificed their lives for the foundation of the country, to make an anti-war pledge and to renew our commitment to peace."

The announcement, made on the party's website, came just two days after Premier Wen Jiabao met his Japanese counterpart Abe in the Philippines, a meeting at which Wen accepted an invitation to visit Japan.

Wen's visit, expected to come in April, is being seen as a sign of warming relations between the two countries, whose ties were strained after Abe's predecessor Junichiro Koizumi made repeated pilgrimages to the shrine.

Abe, who in the past made regular visits to the shrine, has not done so since becoming prime minister in September.

He has refused to make clear whether or not he plans to visit the shrine.

The announcement demonstrated that at least some LDP members intend to stick to the right-wing policy adopted by Koizumi.

But such a policy is unlikely to become a major part of Abe's new Asian strategy that seeks good neighborly ties with China and the Republic of Korea (ROK), said Xu Zhixian, an expert on Japanese affairs with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Abe visited China and the ROK in October, shortly after taking office. The visits played an important role in mending Japan's strained relations with its neighbors.

"Abe's visit has helped Japan's relations with China and the ROK climb out of a stalemate, and I don't think he will change the policy toward China and other Asian nations (by conducting a personal pilgrimage to the shrine)," said Xu in an interview with China Daily.

Diplomatic preparations

A flurry of diplomatic meetings will take place in preparation for Wen's visit, as well as activities commemorating the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, led a delegation to meet the Democratic Party of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Wang, describing Wen's visit as "important and significant", said he hoped the two countries could make joint efforts to make the trip a success.

Japan's Kyodo News agency reported on Tuesday that senior lawmakers from the ruling coalition are considering visiting China for talks with top officials in March.

The report, citing unidentified officials, said Hidenao Nakagawa, secretary general of the LDP, and his counterpart from the New Komeito party, Kazuo Kitagawa, hope to hold talks with either President Hu Jintao or Wen.

Another pair of senior lawmakers from the LDP and the New Komeito, former Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai and Yoshio Urushibara, are set to start a four-day visit to China on Saturday.

(China Daily 01/18/2007 page2)

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