Deadlock remains on Yasukuni Shrine visits
Greg Torode in Kuala Lumpur
Visits by Japanese leaders to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine are continuing to sour relations between Japan and China, officials on both sides said after high-level talks yesterday.
The discussions between Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, failed to reach any breakthrough on the issue, officials said.
The talks were the last such meeting before August 15, when several Japanese leaders are expected to visit the shrine to mark the 61st anniversary of the end of the second world war.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the leading candidate to replace Mr Koizumi in September, have both refused to rule out visits next month. Mr Aso - who is seen as a supporter of the shrine visits - stopped short of expressing a firm opinion either way in his meeting with Mr Li yesterday.
'He said he would make due consideration taking into account his personal feelings and also the fact that he is an official representative of the Japanese government,' Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Yoshinori Katori said.
Mr Aso did not detail the reasons for the ongoing visits, saying other leaders had repeatedly made them. Mr Li made it clear that visits to Yasukuni remained a 'political obstacle that has yet to be resolved', officials on both sides said.
'We had serious discussions,' Mr Li said after the meeting, held on the fringes of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' regional meetings in Kuala Lumpur.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon also expressed similar concerns in a private meeting with Mr Aso, saying the issue was a 'burden to bilateral relations'.
The names of 12 class-A war criminals executed after the war are enshrined at Yasukuni, along with 2.2 million Japanese war dead. Tensions over the shrine visits have scuppered the prospect of recent summit meetings between President Hu Jintao and Mr Koizumi.
However, yesterday's meeting came amid signs of domestic softening on the issue in Japan.
Minister of Finance Sadakazu Tanigaki this week joined the race to replace Mr Koizumi and quickly stated he would not visit the shrine if elected.
Mr Li and Mr Aso spoke for about 90 minutes in private, devoting about half the time to bilateral issues and the rest to regional security issues, particularly the problem of North Korea.
The pair acknowledged the 'great neighbourliness' between the countries, and stressed the importance of strong Sino-Japanese relations to the rest of the world.
They examined ways to further boost economic, cultural and scientific exchanges.
Specifically, the pair agreed to give priority to creating a hotline to deal with any misunderstandings over disputed waters in the East China Sea, Mr Katori said.