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Japan's Abe Says Talks Needed to Improve Ties With China, South Korea

The front-runner to become Japan's next leader says top-levels talks with China and South Korea must resume if ties are to improve.

Speaking at a conference of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, said the relationship between Beijing and Tokyo should not be based on emotions.

He calls it unfortunate that China insists there will not be a summit meeting with Japan as long as Japanese leaders visit the Yasukuni war shrine. Abe says he will tell China when he becomes prime minister that he does not agree with Beijing's stance.

Abe is the overwhelming favorite in the September 20 election for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party.

But two other candidates challenging him to become Japan's next prime minister have differing views on the cause of the chilled relations with China and South Korea.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso told the conference that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the controversial Shinto shrine in Tokyo are not the reason relations with Beijing have cooled.

Aso says the issue is one of personalities because Mr. Koizumi gets along fine with President Bush, but not with the Chinese leader. He says China's leadership could be using the Yasukuni issue as an excuse for the personality clash.

Another contender in the L.D.P. race, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, believes Japan should take unilateral steps to improve the relationships with China and South Korea, which he calls "abnormal."

Tanigaki says Mr. Koizumi's Asian diplomacy five years ago started off on the right track, but faltered because of the visits to Yasukuni. He says if he becomes prime minister he will not visit the shrine.

All of Japan's war dead are enshrined at Yasukuni, including those convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal following World War II.

Japan's neighbors, in particular China and South Korea, say Mr. Koizumi's visits to the shrine glorify Japan's militaristic past.

The L.D.P. has a majority in the Japanese parliament and its candidate is almost certain be elected prime minister when lawmakers select a successor to Mr. Koizumi this month.

Despite Abe's hard-line stance on Yasukuni, some observers predict that relations with Beijing and Seoul could warm within months, even if Abe is victorious.

Speaking on Japanese television, former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura predicted a Sino-Japanese summit could take place at the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hanoi.

Machimura said the relationship between Japan and China has aspects besides the Yasukuni issue and as long as Abe refrains from explicitly stating that he will visit the shrine, China could consent to a summit.