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China, S. Korea to accept one shrine visit by next leader

The Chinese and South Korean governments intend to accept one visit to Yasukuni Shrine by the next prime minister, but only on condition that no more visits are made during his tenure, informed sources said Saturday.

The two countries have exchanged opinions behind the scenes about taking a “joint stance” on the issue, given that Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who supports Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Tokyo shrine, will most likely win the ruling Liberal Democratic Party presidential election in September and become the next prime minister, they said.

South Korea and China have apparently unofficially informed Japanese government and ruling party officials of their intentions, but the sources believe there is little possibility Abe will accept them as he has often expressed his desire to continue paying respects to the war dead.

China and South Korea, victims of Japanese aggression and colonial rule, have been particularly furious about Koizumi’s repeated visits to the shrine, which they regard as symbolizing that militarism.

The issue had prompted the two countries to suspend summit talks since Koizumi’s visit last year.

The Japanese sources said the recent moves suggest the two countries have decided that a certain “concession” is necessary as long as Abe remains the front-runner to succeed Koizumi and as they feel it is necessary to quickly improve deteriorated ties with Japan to bring stability to Northeast Asia.

China and South Korea believe Abe will not make a visit to Yasukuni Shrine this year even if he becomes prime minister, as it is known that he made a visit in April, according to the sources. But they think Abe could visit next year.

The sources said that if Abe then decides not to visit the shrine any more, the two countries will not take any countermeasures such as refusing mutual visits by top leaders.

But if the next prime minister decides to accept the conditions and refrain from visiting the shrine, it could well draw domestic criticism, while a decision to continue such visits could lead to further deterioration in ties with China and South Korea.