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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
China protests at Japanese shrine visit
Protests against Koizumi in South Korea
Koizumi's visit inflamed passions across Asia
China has postponed a scheduled visit by the Japanese defence minister in protest against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni war shrine at the weekend.

It will also delay a visit by its naval vessels to Japan, planned to take place next month, according to the Japanese news agency Kyodo news.

"The Japanese leader's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine has hurt the Chinese people's feelings, and harmed Sino-Japanese relations," a Chinese Foreign Ministry official told AFP news agency.

"China believes that at this time it is not appropriate to carry out these two activities."

South Korea angered

South Korea has also made formal protests against the prime minister's visit to the war shrine, which is a memorial to Japan's war dead but also honours a number of convicted war criminals.

Koizumi visiting the Yasukuni shrine
Koizumi says he meant no offence

Ninety-one members of parliament followed Mr Koizumi's example on Tuesday, and another 94 sent representatives in their place.

South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong summoned the Japanese ambassador on Monday and expressed "strong regrets" over the incident, which came less than six weeks before the two countries co-host the World Cup.

Mr Koizumi's visit to the shrine last year, the first by a serving Japanese prime minister in 16 years, led to a barrage of protests.

That visit was particularly sensitive because it came shortly before the 15 August anniversary of Japan's surrender, which ended World War II.

Sensitive history

South Korea, China, and other Asian countries, which suffered under Japan's war-time rule, view the shrine visit as an attempt to glorify Japan's past.

China has already summoned the Japanese ambassador to Beijing to express its displeasure over the visit, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The Beijing foreign ministry expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the action, saying that China "resolutely opposes" all such visits.

Liberals within Japan itself have also accused Mr Koizumi of trying to stir up nationalist sentiment.

Few Japanese prime ministers have visited the shrine, aware of the sensitivities involved.

Koizumi's defence

But Prime Minister Koizumi has defended his visit.

"The meaning of my visit is to express my hope that we will never have another war," he said.

"There is no change in the friendship and promotion of exchanges with China and South Korea. I think I can gain their understanding," Mr Koizumi told reporters at the weekend.

A similar visit last year sparked a furious reaction from China and the two Koreas, which suffered from Japanese aggression and imperialism in the first half of the 20th Century.

Relations with China and South Korea were damaged for several months afterwards.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Japan has in recent years repeatedly apologised for its war time deeds in China"
See also:

22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese shrine visit angers Seoul
23 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi, one year on
09 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese book angers South Korea
01 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi shrine visit sparks lawsuits
15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan apologises to South Korea
08 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi apologises to China
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi's balancing act
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Japan PM's shrine visit
22 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
World Cup hosts stress teamwork
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