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No Yasukuni Shrine visit for Abe

Publication Date : 16-08-2014


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stayed away from the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in an apparent bid to persuade Chinese leader Xi Jinping to agree to hold their first summit later this year.

Instead, Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine yesterday, a sensitive date marking Japan's defeat in World War II.

But Abe may not have gone far enough to convince Beijing of his sincerity. China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday it "resolutely opposes" Abe's offering to the shrine, even though it was made in his capacity as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In a statement, spokesman Hua Chunying also urged Japan to "earnestly reflect on its history of aggression" for the healthy development of bilateral ties.

Although Abe refrained from going to the shrine, he failed to stop three Cabinet ministers from doing so yesterday.

They were Keiji Furuya, the minister in charge of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals; Yoshitaka Shindo, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications; and Administrative Reform Minister Tomomi Inada. All pray regularly at Yasukuni.

Although a visit to Yasukuni by a Japanese prime minister provokes the largest outcry, visits by Cabinet ministers also rile Asian countries, especially China and South Korea, which suffered from Japan's wartime aggression.

Last December, Abe paid a surprise visit to Yasukuni, the first in seven years by an incumbent premier, upsetting Beijing and Seoul and even drawing a rebuke from Washington, Tokyo's key ally.

Japan's Asian neighbours regard the Yasukuni Shrine - which honours some 2.5 million war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals - as a monument to its past militarism.

Since starting his second term as premier in December 2012, Abe has repeatedly urged dialogue with Beijing and Seoul.

But he has yet to hold formal talks with either of them as bilateral ties remain frigid due to territorial spats and differing historical perceptions.

Last weekend, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met informally his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of an Asean regional forum in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, in a bid to improve ties.

But the two sides remain far apart on conditions for holding an Abe-Xi summit on the fringe of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November.

Abe wants no preconditions. But Beijing says it will not sit down with Abe unless he abstains from praying at Yasukuni and also acknowledges the dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu and also claim.

"Xi will be carefully studying the domestic and international situations before deciding whether to meet Abe," said China scholar Koichi Sato of J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo.

He said the Chinese leader could antagonise anti-Japanese factions at home if he agrees to see Abe. There is also no assurance that the Japanese leader will not make a repeat visit to Yasukuni after a summit with Xi.

At the same time, Beijing hopes to improve its economic ties with Japan as Japanese investments to China have fallen nearly 50 per cent in the first half of this year.

Abe's gesture yesterday was also aimed as a sop to Seoul.

In a speech made before Abe's shrine offering and the ministers' visits, which Seoul's Foreign Ministry blasted as "deplorable", President Park Geun Hye urged Japan to work with South Korea to make 2015 a "new starting point for a new era".

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between the two neighbours

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