Japan foreign minister urges more equal relationship with China, defends PM's shrine visit

Japan should establish a more equal relationship with China rather than always trying to appease its giant rival, the foreign minister said Sunday, as he defended a visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a controversial war shrine that angered Beijing.

Koizumi sparked angry protests from China and South Korea on Monday when he prayed at Yasukuni Shrine, which critics say glorifies Japan's wartime invasions of East Asia. The shrine honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals executed by the Allies after World War II.

The visit _ Koizumi's fifth since taking office in 2001 _ prompted China to cancel a trip to Beijing by Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, while South Korea's foreign minister said he would not follow through any time soon with an expected trip to Japan.

A scheduled December summit between Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was also put in doubt.

On Sunday, Machimura said Tokyo has long kept a low-profile stance toward China out of a sense of responsibility for its wartime aggression, but that it was time to develop a more equal diplomatic relationship.

"Until now, we have often, though not always, tended to think that it is best for Japan to follow everything China says, not insist on our claims, and keep a rather low-profile posture," Machimura said. "But I think we should be able to say what we believe is right, and also listen to the other side sincerely."

Machimura told a talk show on TV Asahi that Koizumi's visit to the war shrine served Japan's national interest and "was to show that he should not succumb to foreign pressure."

However, Machimura said he hoped that relations with Beijing and Seoul could be repaired through diplomatic efforts.

Koizumi has also defended his foreign policy, arguing that problems between Japan and its neighbors go far beyond the shrine visits.

Public opinion is also split on Yasukuni. While some Japanese oppose the shrine's association with militarism and fear the visits damage Japan's standing in Asia, others say Tokyo has been apologetic for too long over the conflict and has a right to mourn its war dead.

Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945, and resentment against Tokyo still runs deep there. Japan invaded China in 1937 and is blamed for the massacre of some 150,000 people in the eastern city of Nanjing. Some Chinese put the death toll at 300,000, AP reported. V.A.

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