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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
China calls off Japanese visit
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prays at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo
Mr Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine infuriate China
China has called off a visit by Japan's foreign minister in apparent protest at Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's attending a controversial war shrine.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura was due in Beijing this month, but a Chinese spokesman said his country was "not in a position to receive him".

Mr Koizumi visited the Yasukuni shrine on Monday, sparking Chinese complaints.

The shrine honours Japan's war dead, including 14 people judged as war criminals after World War II.

Mr Machimura's visit had been intended to repair relations between the two countries, which have been strained by an ongoing row about Mr Koizumi's shrine visits, as well as disputes over gas fields and history text books.

The visit was also intended to pave the way for a meeting between Mr Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japan's JiJi Press reported.

Yasukuni shrine (archive picture)
Built in 1869 to honour victims of the Boshin Civil War
Now venerates the souls of 2.5m of Japan's war dead
Those enshrined include 14 Class A war criminals

Mr Koizumi's latest visit to the Yasukuni shrine came on the same day as China was celebrating the successful return to Earth of its manned Shenzhou VI spacecraft.

"Given the present serious situation of China-Japan relations, this visit is not timely," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan.

His visit "fans the flames of Japan's extreme rightist forces who distort and deny their country's wartime history," Mr Kong added. "We believe such activities will surely result in very serious political consequences."

The Chinese statement came just hours after nearly 200 members of the Japanese parliament also went to the shrine.

The MPs, who include senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, visit the shrine regularly.

Private capacity

Japan's Defence Minister Yoshinori Ono said on Tuesday that Mr Koizumi visited the shrine as a private citizen.

"It is understandable that he went to mourn those who gave their lives for their country and to promise never to go to war again," Mr Ono said.

It was Mr Koizumi's fifth visit to Yasukuni since he became prime minister in 2001.

South Korea has also protested against the latest visit.

A South Korean spokesman said on Monday that President Roh Moo-hyun was unlikely to meet Mr Koizumi for a summit later in the year.

Watch Japan justifying its visit to the war shrine in Tokyo

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