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China slams Japan PM over war shrine offering
Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:26am EDT
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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - China slammed Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on Thursday for making an offering to the Yasukuni shrine for war dead, warning of damage to ties while the two Asian powerhouses grapple with financial woes and North Korea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu did not mention any moves to cancel Aso's planned visit to Beijing next week, but she said his offering of a potted tree to the controversial Tokyo shrine had strained ties between Asia's two biggest economies.
"China has already used diplomatic channels to express its strong concern and dissatisfaction, and stressed the high sensitivity of historical issues," Jiang said in a statement read out on Chinese state television news.
"Any erroneous actions by Japan will have gravely negative consequences for bilateral relations, and we demand that the Japanese side exercise caution in its words and actions and appropriately deal with this."
Even passing strains between Beijing and Tokyo can ripple throughout the region.
Japan and China are the world's second and third biggest economies respectively, accounting for two-thirds of Asia's economy. They are also key players dealing with North Korea, which has raised regional tensions by firing a long-range rocket and saying it will abandon six-party nuclear negotiations.
Liu Jiangyong, an expert on China-Japan relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said Aso's visit would probably go ahead, giving him and Chinese President Hu Jintao a chance to exchange views on the financial crisis and on North Korea.
"I don't think this will lead to a rupture in high-level visits, but it will damage trust between the two sides at this very important time," said Liu, a former government aide.
The Yasukuni shrine to millions of war dead -- including some condemned as war criminals by a post-war tribunal -- is seen by China and other Asian countries as distilling Japan's lack of contrition for bloodshed and atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s.
Earlier this week, Jiang gave a milder reaction to the offering. When Shinzo Abe, then Japanese prime minister, made a similar tribute to the shrine in 2007, China did not issue a condemnation.
But Liu, the Tsinghua professor, said Beijing felt it had to speak out now, because Aso is about to visit and the number of Japanese lawmakers visiting Yasukuni this year was higher than previous years.
"China felt that Japan has been testing its bottom-line over the Yasukuni shrine issue, and so had to respond," he said.
Beijing is also sensitive to deep public distrust of Japan, which stoked sometimes violent protests in Chinese cities in 2005.
The Chinese public reaction to Aso's offering has reached nowhere near the pitch of that time. But Chinese-language internet sites have carried bitter denunciations of Japan. Continued...
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