The foreign ministers of China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) yesterday urged Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to realize how visits to the Yasukuni Shrine a symbol of the country's past militarism rekindle painful memories.
"Japan's leaders should stop doing things that hurt the feelings of the people of China and numerous Asian countries," Li Zhaoxing told reporters after meeting his ROK counterpart Ban Ki-moon at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Busan.
"Go ask Europeans how they would feel if a German leader paid homage to the Nazis," said Li, who has declined to have bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart at the event.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference in Beijing yesterday that there was no plan for a bilateral meeting between Chinese and Japanese leaders at the APEC leadership meeting this week.
"We believe the conditions for such a meeting are not in place now," Liu said.
A senior ROK Foreign Ministry official told reporters Ban agreed with Li that the shrine visits should stop.
Ban told Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso in a meeting on Monday that Japanese politicians should halt their visits to Yasukuni.
Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wang Yi said Koizumi's repeated visits to the shrine are a "knotty issue" in Sino-Japanese relations.
"Only if Japan unties this knot can it expect Sino-Japanese relations to improve, and exchanges of official visits by state leaders be possible," he wrote in a signed article published on Monday in Japan Business News.
In the most recent instance, Koizumi paid homage at the shrine in Tokyo where 14 Japanese Class-A war criminals are honoured on October 17. It was the fifth time he had visited the place since becoming prime minister in April 2001.
The Chinese Government has been consistent in its opposition to such visits because the war criminals were culprits in Japan's war of aggression against China between 1931 and 1945.
"Koizumi's visits destroyed the efforts by both sides (at improving relations) since the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1972," said Wang, a former vice-minister of foreign affairs.
The Japanese public is split over Koizumi's visits to the shrine, a poll said yesterday.
Public broadcaster NHK said 43 per cent of 1,046 respondents supported the visits, while 42 per cent were opposed.