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Koizumi Baffled By Attitude of China, S. Korea to War Shrine Visits

Japan's prime minister, who just days earlier vowed to improve relations with Asian neighbors in the new year, has lashed out at criticism from Beijing and Seoul over his visits to a controversial shrine.

In a nationally televised news conference Wednesday marking the start of government business for the new year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rapped China and South Korea for politicizing his annual pilgrimages to the Yasukuni war shrine.

Mr. Koizumi says he is baffled as to why some foreign governments insist on interfering with a spiritual matter and try to twist it into a diplomatic issue. The prime minister insists his visits to the Tokyo shrine are meant to honor all of Japan's war dead and says he goes there to pray for world peace.

Several Asian nations have repeatedly called for an end to the pilgrimages because war criminals are enshrined there, along with hundreds of thousands of ordinary soldiers. A museum on the grounds of the shrine also glorifies Japan's 20th century militarism. The Osaka High Court has ruled that Mr. Koizumi's visits are official acts that violate Japan's constitutional separation of religion and state, but other courts have not backed that ruling.

After Prime Minister Koizumi made his fourth visit since taking office in mid-October, both Beijing and Seoul canceled talks with Tokyo.

Mr. Koizumi said during his news conference that it is up to Beijing and Seoul to resume dialogue with Tokyo and he has a strong desire to see that happen.

The prime minister adds he has never tried to cut off communications with China and South Korea and the door remains open. Mr. Koizumi says a single problem should not mean ending dialogue because every nation has differences of opinions with others.

Mr. Koizumi also said that Japan has a special relationship with the United States. He said he was not trying to suggest that Tokyo's relationship with Washington is the only one that matters but said it is more critical than ties with other countries because the United States is the only nation that sees an attack on Japan as an attack on itself.