BEIJING (Kyodo) Regardless of who will succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down in September, the Chinese will likely pay close attention to one point — whether the new leader will visit Yasukuni Shrine.

Chinese experts underscored the importance of the issue in recent interviews, saying trips to the Tokyo shrine, which China sees as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past, remain the biggest obstacle in ties between the two countries.

“The biggest problem for us is the fact that the shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals, who represent Japan’s militarism,” said Wu Jianmin, a former diplomat and president of China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.

The shrine visits are being increasingly criticized not only by people in China, but also by people in other countries, including European nations, Wu said.

“We urge the Japanese leader not to visit Yasukuni Shrine, and believe the logic for this request is in line with the common values held by those who oppose fascism all over the world,” he said.

Halting the shrine visits “would not constitute a compromise by Japan under pressure from China,” Wu added. “What it would be is (Japan’s) return to the common values held by all.”

Recent signs have indicated China is losing hope for an improvement in bilateral relations under the Koizumi administration.

A Diet member who met Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan quoted him as saying there is little chance the two countries will mend ties while Koizumi remains in office, given that he is unlikely to change his mind about the shrine visits.

Takeshi Noda, a former home affairs minister from Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, quoted Tang as saying in a meeting in Beijing earlier this month that he “no longer has any expectation” about Koizumi.

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