Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday he doesn’t think his contentious annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, even though Beijing has singled it out as one of the root causes of the recent anti-Japan street demonstrations in China.

“I myself do not think so,” Koizumi said when asked by a reporter at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in the afternoon if he thought his Yasukuni trips hurt the Chinese.

Koizumi repeated that he visits the Shinto shrine in Chiyoda Ward “to pledge not to cause war anymore and to pay respect to the war dead.”

Koizumi’s comment could add more fuel to the massive protests in China. Beijing has repeatedly demanded that he not visit the shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead as well as convicted Class-A war criminals.

During a meeting Sunday with Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing argued that Japan’s attitude toward historical issues, including those raised by visits to Yasukuni and revisionist Japanese history textbooks, has “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” and led to the hostile protests targeting Japan.

Koizumi indirectly criticized China’s teaching of history, which many Japanese critics blame for fueling nationalistic and anti-Japan sentiments in the younger generations.

“In any country, friendship is important. It’s not desirable to fan hostile feelings toward a certain country, whichever country that may be,” Koizumi told reporters.

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