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Friday, Oct. 28, 2005
Ban slams shrine visit, casts doubt on summit
Visiting South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon on Thursday denounced Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit last week to Yasukuni Shrine and said President Roh Moo Hyun may not come to Japan in December as planned.
Ban made the comments in an evening meeting with Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura -- the first ministerial talks Japan and South Korea have held since Koizumi's fifth visit to the contentious shrine on Oct. 17.
Yasukuni honors 14 Class-A war criminals together with Japan's war dead, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minister.
"This sort of act trampled on the feelings of the South Korean people," Ban was quoted by Machimura as saying. "If (Koizumi) had a correct perception of history, he would never think of paying the visit."
Ban added that Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine, which neighboring nations consider a symbol of Japan's militarism, have not yet been accepted by the international community, Machimura said.
The visit rekindled anger in China and other Asian nations aside from South Korea.
In response, Machimura said he explained that Koizumi paid homage to Yasukuni as a private citizen to mourn the war dead and out of his conviction that Japan should never wage war again.
Ban was also quoted as saying that "the atmosphere at this time is severe" for Roh to visit Japan in December. The two leaders have agreed to visit each other once a year.
Although the South Korean minister agreed to hold talks with Machimura on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Pusan, South Korea, next month, he said he would relay Japan's request for a summit with Roh to the president, Machimura said.
Ban strongly urged the government to appropriate funds in the fiscal 2006 budget -- to be compiled in December -- to study the feasibility of building a new, secular war memorial where top leaders can pay their respects to the war dead, according to Machimura.
Machimura, however, replied that the government will take public opinion into account when considering Seoul's request.
Seoul had at one time indicated it would cancel Ban's visit to Tokyo, but decided to go through with it anyway to urge Japan to adopt measures to prevent international disputes over the Shinto shrine.
"Your visit to Japan was a courageous decision," Machimura told Ban. "I profoundly welcome your visit."
On other issues, the two ministers agreed on the importance of implementing the September agreement reached during six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program at the earliest date, and that Japan, South Korea and the United States should cooperate toward that goal.
Machimura said he told Ban that Japan and North Korea will hold bilateral talks next week, adding that Tokyo will not provide economic or energy aid to Pyongyang without significant progress on the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
The two ministers also agreed to jointly draft a five-year program to promote cultural exchange and exchanges among teachers and youths, Machimura said.
They also agreed to hold the first meeting of a second round of a joint historical study by the end of the year. Masao Okonogi, professor of law at Keio University, will head Japan's study group, he said.
Ban, who will leave Tokyo on Saturday, will meet with the prime minister on Friday.