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Japan PM Begins Asia Trip in Vietnam - 2002-04-28

Japanese Prime Minister Junichuro Koizumi met with Vietnamese leaders and visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh as he kicked off a week-long Asia-Pacific tour aimed at raising Japan's regional profile.

One-week after Mr. Koizumi stirred up controversy by visiting a shrine to Japanese martyrs including war criminals, he laid a wreath at the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's independence leader who fought against Japan's occupation during World War II.

A Japanese official described the ceremony as a routine courtesy call, and not an apology for the occupation. Although Mr. Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine drew protests from other Asian countries, Vietnam's leaders did not bring it up in their two-days of talks.

Instead, Mr. Koizumi's talks with top Communist Party leaders focused on trade and investment. Japan is Vietnam's largest foreign aid donor, contributing more than $5 billion to Hanoi in past years. The two countries are drafting an investment agreement to make it easier for Japanese to set up businesses in Vietnam.

But Mr. Koizumi did not respond to a proposal for a general free trade agreement, nor to a push by Vietnam's prime minister Phan Van Khai to increase exports to Japan of Vietnamese rice, shrimp and coffee. Japan is known for its protectionist trade policies, especially in agriculture.

Mr. Koizumi's week-long regional tour takes him next to East Timor, where he will become the first world leader to meet with president-elect Xanana Gusmao of the soon-to-be independent nation. He is later scheduled to go to Australia and New Zealand for talks aimed at strengthening ties.