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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
First China visit for Japan's Abe
Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe
Mr Abe has not said in public if he plans to visit the Yasukuni shrine
Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit China and South Korea next week hoping to rebuild regional ties.

Mr Abe will go to Beijing on 8 October then fly to Seoul a day later, the three countries have confirmed.

His visit to Beijing will be the first bilateral summit between Chinese and Japanese leaders for five years.

The leaders of both China and South Korea had refused to meet former PM Junichiro Koizumi, a protest at visits to a controversial Japanese shrine.

The bilateral meetings will take place against the background of North Korea's announcement that it plans to test a nuclear bomb.

In a statement, Mr Abe said the North's announcement was "regrettable", and any nuclear test by Pyongyang would "never be forgivable".

Koizumi shunned

The Yasukuni shrine honours Japan's war dead, including 14 World War II war criminals.

YASUKUNI SHRINE
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

Both China and South Korea say the shrine glorifies Japan's past militarism, particularly during World War II.

Without referring to the shrine by name, a Chinese government spokesman said the summit would go ahead after overcoming "the political obstacle to bilateral relations".

Since his recent election victory Mr Abe has so far refused to comment on whether he plans to visit the shrine.

But his election has brought the hope of a regional rapprochement.

Mr Koizumi made six visits to the shrine while he was prime minister, despite protests from Japan's regional neighbours.

The last bilateral summit between Japan and China took place in October 2001, when Mr Koizumi visited Beijing.

The last meeting between the two countries' leaders came in April 2005, on the fringes of an Asia-African summit in Indonesia.


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