Japan’s foreign minister today pledged to smooth ties with China and South Korea after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi enraged the two Asian neighbours and sparked business jitters by visiting a war shrine that critics say glorifies Japan’s militaristic past.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura’s efforts to contain the diplomatic damage from the incident came as nearly 200 other Japanese politicians and aides followed Koizumi’s example by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine today.
Although China cancelled a diplomatic meeting with Japan to protest Koizumi’s visit, Machimura predicted that other talks with China and South Korea would go ahead as planned.
“We will make efforts to gain understanding through various channels,” Machimura said. “We want to pursue plans for the talks as scheduled.”
Machimura is to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and Koizumi is hoping to arrange a summit with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun later this year.
Koizumi’s shrine visit complicates already tense relations with Asian neighbours over territorial disputes and Japan’s approval of history textbooks that opponents say whitewash its Second World War-era atrocities.
It also chills the air at a time when Japan is seeking cooperation from China and South Korea in resolving the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, activists in China vandalised Japanese retail outlets there in protests against the textbooks and Japan’s claim to gas fields in the East China Sea.
A report in the Nihon Keizai newspaper said Japanese insurance companies expect their Chinese expansion plans will now be delayed by Beijing and that Japanese airlines are bracing for a reduction in tourism to the Asian mainland.
Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa played down any negative economic impact.
“I admire Mr Koizumi, who stood by his beliefs,” Nakagawa said. “All China has to do is show a mature reaction. It’s not for us to predict whether the visit had an effect or not.”
Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki urged businesses to react calmly.
“Generally speaking, a visit to the shrine in his private capacity should not affect economic activities between the two countries,” Tanigaki said. “We should make efforts to maintain and develop good relations.”
About 100 politicians prayed at the shrine today, joined by 94 aides representing legislators.
The group, including leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a handful of opposition politicians, visited Yasukuni to pay respects to the war dead during a fall festival, said shrine official Yoko Tokoro.
Koizumi’s visit was his fifth since becoming prime minister in April 2001, despite a recent court ruling that the visits violate Japan’s constitutional division of religion and state.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon summoned Japanese Ambassador Shotaro Oshima yesterday to express his country’s “deep regrets” over the visit.
The prime minister defended the visit, saying he went to Yasukuni to express Japan’s resolve not to go to war again. But about 20 protesters rallied against the pilgrimage outside Koizumi’s residence today.
Ruling party politician Masatoshi Kurata told reporters at Yasukuni that the purpose of the visit today was to mourn the war dead and pray for global peace.
“All politicians who are here know very well how our nation has achieved peace in the 60 years since the end of the war,” Kurata said. “We all thought very carefully … each country has its own position.”
Japan’s 2.5 million war dead are worshipped as deities at Yasukuni, which follows Japan’s native Shinto religion.
They include convicted war criminals executed by the Allies after the Second World War including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The shrine also runs a museum that attempts to justify Japan’s wartime aggression.