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China, South Korea Blast Japanese Leader's Visits to War Shrine


China and South Korea have again criticized Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi for visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are among those honored. The latest criticism came Tuesday at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in South Korea.

Chinese and South Korean leaders said the Japanese prime minister is hurting Japan's ties with the rest of Asia. The sharpest rebuke came from China, with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing saying Mr. Koizumi's visits to the shrine were tantamount to modern Germany's honoring its past Nazi leaders.

"If German leaders worshipped Hitler and worshipped the Nazis, how would the European people look at this? Yet Japanese leaders are worshipping such war criminals who harmed so many Chinese people," said Li Zhaoxing.

Lee Hyuk, an official in charge of Asian affairs at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, also voiced his country's opposition to Mr. Koizumi's visits to the shrine.

"[The] Korean government and people are also strongly against Japanese leaders distorting past history," said Lee Hyuk.

The Yasukuni shrine honors more than two million of Japan's war dead going back to the 19th century. There is no list of names at the site, but those honored include a small number of Japanese military officials who were convicted as war criminals after World War II. The convictions were for atrocities committed during Japan's aggression in Asia, including acts during the country's early 20th century occupation of China and the Korean peninsula.

Yoshinori Katori, a spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, replied to the latest criticism by saying his country owes its current prosperity to the sacrifices of its war dead. He said the Japanese leader's visits speak of the country's resolve to remain a peace-loving nation, and do not intend to pay tribute to war criminals.

"Prime Minister Koizumi explained that he did go to the shrine to renew his will that Japan should never enter into war," said Mr. Katori.

But Tokyo's explanations have fallen on deaf ears. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said Chinese President Hu Jintao would not meet with Prime Minister Koizumi on the sidelines of the APEC summit, saying the current atmosphere is not appropriate.

Mr. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine have in the past triggered officially-sanctioned street protests in China. Beijing routinely accuses Japan of whitewashing accounts of rape, torture, and mass killings of Chinese citizens during Japan's occupation of China during the first half of the 20th century.