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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Fukuda gets testy over Yasukuni Shrine questions

Staff writer

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda got annoyed Monday with a reporter who asked him about China's latest protest over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.

"Should I make a comment every time (some foreign leaders) talk about it?" the government's top spokesman asked.

"I've already discussed Prime Minister Koizumi's way of thinking (on this matter) many times in the past. Please refer to it."

On Sunday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged Japanese political leaders to stop visiting the Shinto shrine, which honors 2.46 million Japanese war dead as well as 14 convicted Class-A war criminals, saying these visits damage bilateral ties.

"Political, economic, people and cultural ties have moved forward constantly. . . . The main problem lies in the fact that some leaders (visit the shrine)," Wen reportedly said in Beijing.

The issue was also taken up Monday by visiting Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Gingguo during talks with his Japanese counterpart, Yukio Takeuchi.

"The two countries should make an effort to remove the (Yasukuni) difficulty and further develop the bilateral relationship," Dai was quoted as telling Takeuchi.

Koizumi said Monday that his Yasukuni visits did not hinder bilateral ties, claiming Tokyo has nurtured a "good relationship" with Beijing.

"I will gladly visit (China) if the Chinese side wants me to make a visit," Koizumi told reporters in trying to play down Wen's remarks.

Defying strong protests from China and South Korea, Koizumi has visited the shrine every year since taking office in 2001, the last time on Jan. 1.

Mutual visits by top Japanese and Chinese leaders have meanwhile been suspended, despite the growing importance of China as an economic power and its key role in efforts to resolve North Korea problems.

Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni, which other parts of Asia view as a symbol of Japanese past militarism, are believed to be the key factor keeping China from extending an invitation for him to visit.

Fukuda was tasked by the prime minister with heading a special panel to discuss an alternative, nonreligious facility dedicated to Japan's war dead.

But he has been caught up in a political stalemate, as many traditional supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party oppose the idea, fearing that a new facility could overshadow the role of Yasukuni, considered the nation's spiritual pillar during the war.

"(The Yasukuni issue) is the most sensitive problem for the Koizumi Cabinet," said one senior government official who asked not to be named.

Koizumi's advisers have given up trying to persuade him to heed China's protests, the official said.

"He is a person who sheds tears for the kamikaze pilots. He will never change his mind," the official said.

Military transparency

Japan wants China to make its military spending transparent, Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya said Monday.

"Other countries are making clear how much they spend on maintenance costs and equipment," Moriya told a news conference. "We want China also to make (that) clear from the standpoint of transparency."

The National People's Congress on Sunday passed its 2004 budget featuring an 11.6 percent rise in military spending from the year before.

Moriya said Japan is keeping a watch on China's moves to buy state-of-the-art arms.

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The Japan Times

Article 2 of 11 in National news

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