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Friday, Sept. 29, 2006

CABINET INTERVIEW

Abe hopes shrine coyness won't miff China: Aso


Staff writer

A Japan-China summit could be in the works, but Tokyo is waiting for Beijing to move forward on negotiations, reappointed Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Wednesday.

News photo
Foreign Minister Taro Aso speaks to reporters in Tokyo Wednesday, the day after his reappointment. REIJI YOSHIDA PHOTO

"We have thrown (the ball into their court)," Aso told The Japan Times, saying Beijing, too, must believe talks should be arranged promptly.

Efforts were being made to hold bilateral talks before a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November, Aso said.

"If we miss this chance, it will only become more difficult as time passes. We have urged (China) to (meet) quickly" after the new Cabinet was named, Aso said.

The 66-year-old Lower House member from Fukuoka is the only minister under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to be reappointed to the Cabinet of his successor, Shinzo Abe.

Abe has said he trusts Aso -- his rival in the race to succeed Koizumi as head of the Liberal Democratic Party -- to be foreign minister.

Aso, like Abe, holds conservative political views and is a tough diplomat.

The minister admitted during the group interview that the stumbling block to a China-Japan summit is Yasukuni Shrine. Koizumi upset China with his annual visits to the Tokyo shrine, which, while dedicated to the nation's 2.47 million war dead, also honors 14 Class-A war criminals.

Aso indicated Tokyo has promised Beijing that Abe will show "consideration" to Beijing, after having suggested he would continue to visit Yasukuni while in office.

"Mr. Abe is a guy with common sense. He won't go to Yasukuni directly from Narita airport after coming back from a meeting with (Chinese President) Hu Jintao," Aso said.

Koizumi angered Beijing by visiting or mentioning Yasukuni right after meeting with Chinese leaders, leading Beijing to refrain from holding summits with him.

Asked what "consideration" Abe will give to Beijing, Aso would only say that Abe has said he will not speak publicly about whether he has visited Yasukuni Shrine, as was the case when he went last spring.

The rest "depends on if China recognizes it as 'consideration' " for Chinese leaders, the foreign minister said.

Aso has also refused to say whether he will visit the contentious shrine.

"I will make an appropriate decision," Aso said during a news conference Tuesday after his reappointment.

Conservative politicians have often caused political rows with China and South Korea by claiming the war Japan waged in the 1930s and 40s was an act of self-defense and not of aggression.

Asked about his position on the war Japan waged in China, Aso declined comment, saying politicians should be "humble" in making judgments about modern history.

"Even for people in one country, it is very difficult to agree on how history should be viewed," Aso said.

"I don't think politicians can one-sidedly determine a certain view of history."

Aso, the grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, has already served as foreign minister almost a year since last October.



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