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Sunday, August 20, 2006

China tells Japan shrine visits block ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's relations with Japan would remain at low ebb as long as Japanese leaders continued visiting a Tokyo shrine for war dead, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Sunday, driving home Beijing's displeasure.

State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told the honorary leader of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, Doi Takako, that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Tuesday visit to the Yasukuni Shrine had "seriously affected the improvement of China-Japan relations", the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Shinto shrine includes Japanese World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals among the 2.5 million war dead it honors, and is considered a symbol of Japan's past militarism by China and North Korea, which bore the brunt of Japanese aggression.

Koizumi's visit on the anniversary of his country's World War Two surrender drew swift condemnation from Beijing, Seoul and other regional capitals.

On Sunday, Tang repeated that criticism but leavened it with offers of warmer ties -- if Japanese leaders drop the shrine visits.

"The Chinese side will continue to work for breaking the deadlock of Sino-Japanese relations", Tang - a former foreign minister and ambassador to Tokyo - told Doi, visiting Beijing.

Tang said the two countries should seek to put relations "back onto a normal development track". Tang serves as a senior policy adviser.

Koizumi is set to step down in September and his heir apparent, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has declined to say whether he would visit the shrine if he became prime minister.

Many observers believe China holds out some hope that Abe will adopt a less abrasive approach to relations and avoid visits to the shrine.
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