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China, Japan have "gentlemen's agreement" over war shrine
Updated: 2005-04-28 08:48

Japan and China reached "a gentlemen's agreement" 20 years ago that top Japanese leaders would not visit a war shrine that is at the center of a bitter row between them, China's ambassador to Tokyo said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has infuriated nations invaded by Japan in the past by paying a pilgrimage each year to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals.

Wang Yi.

Ambassador Wang Yi said China and Japan agreed after a 1985 visit to the shrine by then prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone that top Japanese leaders would not pay their respects at the shrine.

In return China agreed to not condemn pilgrimages there by lesser-ranking figures, Wang said in a speech at the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"There was a gentlemen's agreement stipulating that the faces of Japan -- the prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary and the foreign minister -- would refrain from visiting the shrine," Wang said.

In exchange for the Japanese concession, China promised "there will be nothing said about the Japanese public visiting Yasukuni shrine. Politicians' visits would not be regarded as political problems," Wang said.

The shrine, seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism, is a focus of an intense row between the two nations.

After Nakasone's visit in 1985, no Japanese prime minister visited the shrine for 11 years until Ryutaro Hashimoto in July 1996.

Since taking office in 2001, Koizumi has gone to Yasukuni each year with his last visit on January 1, 2004.

Koizumi, the longest serving premier since Nakasone, has made the visits despite protests by China and South Korea.

Chinese President Hu Jintao raised the shrine issue with Koizumi when they met on Saturday in a bid to patch over relations but Koizumi said there was no change in his policy for the time being.

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