- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed yesterday at a Tokyo shrine honoring the country’s war dead, defying critics who say the visits glorify militarism and triggering protests from China and South Korea.

The visit was Mr. Koizumi’s fifth to the Yasukuni Shrine since becoming prime minister in April 2001 and was made despite a recent court decision that the visits violate Japan’s constitutional division of religion and the state.

China and South Korea, which suffered from Tokyo’s conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century, filed protests with Japanese officials.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing summoned Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami to Beijing and said the shrine visit “severely damaged China-Japan relations.”

Noting that this year is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and that Mr. Koizumi had apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression, China said the leader had “swallowed his own words.”

China also canceled a meeting between Japanese envoys to discuss North Korea.

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon summoned Japanese Ambassador Shotaro Oshima to express his country’s “deep regrets” over the shrine visit.

“Our government has repeatedly requested that [Mr. Koizumi] not visit the shrine, which enshrines war criminals who inflicted indescribable suffering and pain in the past,” Mr. Ban said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to be drawn into a dispute that has bitterly divided some of America’s closest allies.

“Everybody understands some of the sensitivities and concerns in the region,” he said.

“We would just hope that those with concerns about this issue could work together with the Japanese government … in the spirit of friendship,” he said.

Japan’s embassies in Beijing and Seoul warned Japanese citizens to be cautious. Demonstrations were held outside both embassies, though they were smaller than the riots that erupted in several Chinese cities in April over nationalist Japanese history textbooks.

Mr. Koizumi defended his visit, saying he went to Yasukuni to express Japan’s resolve not to go to war again.

“A foreign government should not take issue with the way the Japanese express condolences to the Japanese war dead,” he told reporters.

About 200 nationalist Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine early today, said a spokesman for the shrine. But Japanese business leaders expressed fears that the visits would hurt the country’s economic position in Asia.

Japan’s 2.5 million war dead are worshipped as deities at Yasukuni, a shrine belonging to the country’s native Shinto religion. They include executed war criminals from World War II such as former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The shrine also runs a museum that attempts to justify Japan’s wartime aggression.

Staff reporter David R. Sands contributed to this report from Washington.

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