Japan's opposition Democratic Party (DPJ), a strong contender to form the next government, got a warm reaction after announcing it wants to close the book on visits by the prime minister to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of soldiers -- including 1,068 convicted war criminals. It has been visited by senior Japanese politicians, to the chagrin of countries, including China, that suffered wartime atrocities.
The DPJ says that if it wins the Aug 30 election, it will not let its leader visit the shrine. Experts said the move signals Tokyo may be ready to offer conciliation to Asian neighbors, many of whom were occupied by Japanese forces during the World War II.
Xu Dunxin, a former Chinese ambassador to Japan, said that delivering on the promise would "erase a decades-old impediment to better Sino-Japanese relations and further improve Japan's ties with other Asian neighbors who also suffered from Japanese aggression".
The ambassador pointed out that the promise was not a sudden move because the DPJ has long insisted on appropriately handling historic issues in a bid to maintain and grow the relationship with China.
The secretary-general of the DPJ, Katsuya Okada, made the announcement on Monday.
"The Japanese prime minister should not visit the Yasukuni Shrine as long as Class A war criminals from the World War II are being worshiped there," Okada said, according to a report on People's Daily website.
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said in June he would not personally visit the shrine. The party has promised to build a new, non-religious, site as a memorial to Japan's war dead. The Yasukuni Shrine is controversial, in part, because it is believed that the shrine absolves the souls of soldiers, no matter what negative or evil acts were done.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the Tokyo shrine between 2001 and 2006 infuriated Beijing and Seoul and resulted in soured diplomatic relations.
None of the three prime ministers that have followed Koizumi have visited the shrine.
However, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has controlled Japan for most of the past 54 years, has not ruled out future visits.
According to the latest research, the DPJ is ahead in the polls with 39.7 percent support. The LDP is polling 18.2.
Okada also said on Monday that the DPJ would seek strong and trustful ties with China and not interfere in China's internal affairs, such as issues in Tibet and Xinjiang.
Reuters quoted Lam Peng Er, a senior research fellow with the East Asian Institute in Singapore, as saying that the DPJ's stance would erase "at least half of the burden of history" between the nations.
"There are residual issues on both sides ... but they are nothing like as emotional as the Yasukuni Shrine," he said.
"It is a new beginning, a fresh start."