Mainland may scrap Japan PM trip

TOKYO, Reuters

Mainland China has threatened to scuttle a planned autumn trip to Beijing by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi if he visits a controversial shrine to Japan’s war dead, a Japanese newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular leaders in years, has repeatedly said he will visit Yasukuni shrine on August 15 — Japan’s anniversary of the end of World War II — despite protests from mainland China and other Asian neighbors. Yasukuni enshrines Japan’s 2.6 million war dead since the 19th century, including Class-A war criminals such as wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo.

The Nihon Keizai newspaper said mainland Chinese officials have told their Japanese counterparts that if Koizumi visits the shrine, it would be “difficult” to accept his trip to Beijing.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo and Beijing were exchanging views on various issues including Koizumi’s planned visit to Yasukuni, but added that he cannot disclose the content of the discussions.

Japan and mainland China agreed in 1998 to have their leaders visit each other’s country annually. It is the Japanese prime minister’s turn to visit Beijing this year.

In Beijing later on Wednesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the two Asian powers should maintain high-level exchanges to try to improve bilateral ties.

“High level exchanges play an important role in developing bilateral relations,” a mainland Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “At present, what needs to be done by the two sides is to create the necessary atmosphere for these.”

The Nikkei said preparations were being made for an official visit to China by Koizumi after he attends a leaders meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Shanghai in October.

Controversy surrounding visits to Yasukuni by Japanese prime ministers and cabinet ministers has strained Tokyo’s ties with its Asian neighbors since Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made an official visit in 1985.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto also visited the shrine while in office, although in a “private capacity.”

Beijing has already warned Koizumi, known for his nationalist leanings, not to pay homage at Yasukuni, noting that it could harm Beijing-Tokyo relations.

Japanese Foreign Ministry officials have told Koizumi about a possible impact of his shrine visit on Tokyo’s ties with Asian neighbors, a Japanese government source said.

“If Prime Minister Koizumi visits Yasukuni, it will undoubtedly spark profound anger among Japan’s neighbors,” the source said.