China urged Japan yesterday to stop visits by its leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, just days after a report that the front-runner to become Japan's next prime minister had secretly paid his respects there earlier this year.
China, where many suffered under Japanese aggression before and during World War II, has not specifically criticized the reported pilgrimage by Shinzo Abe, seen as the most likely candidate to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down next month.
"We want top Japanese officials to call an immediate halt to visits to Yasukuni, where Class A war criminals are enshrined," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (
"Dealing with the history problem based on a correct view of history will be to the benefit of both the Japanese and Chinese peoples," he added.
Yasukuni is seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. Fourteen wartime leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as "Class A" war criminals are honored there alongside 2.5 million war dead, and a war museum within the shrine grounds is often criticized for glorifying war.
"It may be that people mistakenly believe that China's attitude towards Yasukuni has changed in some ways," Liu said when asked why China had not issued an immediate condemnation last week.
"In fact the attitude of the Chinese government and people to the history problem is consistent and has not changed," the spokesman said.
Liu declined to speculate on the effect on bilateral ties if Abe takes over as premier next month.
"It is up to the Japanese people to decide who will be the next prime minister," Liu said. "China will welcome anyone who makes an effort to improve bilateral relations," he said.
Liu emphasized the improvement in bilateral ties over recent months, following two meetings between the countries' respective foreign ministers and said China was willing to hold another such meeting.
Liu said that "it is not impossible" for the two foreign ministers to meet in Beijing.
Kyodo News agency reported earlier that Beijing showed willingness to hold talks "soon," but said that the spokesman did not specify when.