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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Koizumi to visit Asian neighbours
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi led into Yasukuni Shrine by a priest
Mr Koizumi's shrine visit deeply upset South Korea
Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, is planning one-day visits to China and South Korea, aiming to improve relations soured by rows over Japan's military past and concerns over plans to change rules governing the actions of Japan's Self Defence Force.

Mr Koizumi told a parliamentary panel he would also like to discuss moves to counter terrorism.

A spokesman said the visits - to China on 8 October and South Korea on 15 October - must be approved by the Japanese parliament.

South Korean men cut off their fingertips in Seoul
South Korean men cut off their fingertips in protest at the shrine visit
Relations between Japan and its Asian neighbours have been shaky since the Japanese Government approved a textbook earlier this year which critics say whitewashes its wartime atrocities.

Mr Koizumi further angered Asian neighbours in August when he visited a shrine that honours war criminals among Japan's war dead.

A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters that Mr Koizumi would make a new gesture of atonement for his country's wartime past during the visit.

There are also concerns over plans to allow Japan's Self Defence Force to provide logistical support to the US in the event of military action against Afghanistan.

Japan's constitution currently restricts the military to activities within a narrow definition of self defence.

South Korea and Japan are co-hosting next year's football World Cup.

South Korea relents

Mr Koizumi's visit to Seoul comes after months of negotiations and rejections by the South Korean Government.

Yasukuni Shrine
Yasukuni Shrine honours soldiers and war criminals
South Korean presidential spokesman Oh Hong-Keun confirmed that Mr Koizumi would meet President Kim Dae-Jung.

Mr Oh did not say why South Korea's had suddenly agreed to the visit. Previously the government insisted Japan make efforts to heal the rift before a meeting could take place.

But Kang Hyun-Wook, a key government policy maker, said the attacks on the US, and the global economic slump, had increased pressure for a summit.

"The two countries must also maintain close cooperation for a successful co-hosting of the 2002 football World Cup," he said.

Book dispute

The row between over a new history book by nationalist historians, approved for use in Japanese schools next spring, has been simmering for months. South Korea is angry at the failure of the book to mention more than 100,000 so-called "comfort women", forced to have sex with Japanese troops during the war.

It also objects to the book's claim that Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula was necessary for stability.

As a result of Japan's refusal to amend the book, South Korea scaled back military and cultural ties.

On 13 August, the row deepened when Mr Koizumi visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine despite objections from Asian neighbours. The shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Japan PM's shrine visit
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Koizumi visits war shrine
17 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese schools reject textbook
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi's balancing act
13 Aug 01 | Media reports
Japanese premier's shrine statement
30 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pressure over Japan PM's shrine visit
10 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger deepens in history book row
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi courts shrine controversy
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial war shrine
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
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