- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

TOKYO — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left for Moscow yesterday to join other global leaders in a World War II remembrance, as Japan’s perceptions of its militarist past fueltensions with its Asian neighbors.

At the ceremonies today marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, Mr. Koizumi will become the first Japanese leader to take part in major commemorations of the end of the war in Europe.

But, back in Asia, his repeated pilgrimages to a Tokyo shrine honoring Japan’s military dead since the imperial restoration of 1868 — including some World War II leaders — continue to provoke China and South Korea, dogging Japan’s hopes for a permanent Security Council seat.

“I see the ceremonies as an opportunity to pray for the victims of war and relish world peace,” Mr. Koizumi told reporters before departing on a chartered flight.

Russia will be the sixth country that Mr. Koizumi has visited in less than a month — after trips to Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — as Japan seeks a stronger global presence with a Security Council seat.

At an Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 22, Mr. Koizumi followed his predecessors in apologizing for Japan’s World War II aggression in Asia and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to tell him that Japan wants friendship.

But China and South Korea have insisted that Mr. Koizumi must end his annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a Shinto sanctuary honoring Japanese war dead, including high World War II officers hanged by the U.S.-led Allies as Class-A war criminals.

Top Japanese and Chinese leaders have not exchanged state visits in three years because of the row, which also provoked anti-Japanese protests in China last month.

Apart from the shrine issue, China and the two Koreas have disputed Japan’s historical perceptions of its militarist past — as reflected in its school textbooks — and its territorial claims.

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