Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has formally announced his candidacy for prime minister, pledging to repair relations with Japan's regional neighbors if he wins.

Aso announced his bid Monday to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who will step down next month when his term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expires.

If he is elected, the foreign minister says, he will help restart summits with China and South Korea. Japan's neighbors have been angered by Mr. Koizumi's annual visits to a controversial war shrine, which they say glorifies Japan's militaristic past.

Aso says the Yasukuni shrine should be a secular, state-run memorial.

Debate over whether Mr. Koizumi's successor should visit the shrine has dominated discussions about Japan's next leader.

Aso is one of three main candidates vying for Mr. Koizumi's position. The front-runner, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has defended the shrine visits.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.