Koizumi says Japan need not heed pressure from China, SKorea on shrine

Tokyo, Japan - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he felt no obligation to bow to pressure from China and South Korea to stop visiting a controversial shrine which honors Japanese war dead.

Koizumi, who on Monday failed to bridge a gap on disputes about history when he met South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, denied opposition charges that he was jeopardizing Japan's foreign relations for political gain.

"I do not think we should just do as South Korea says nor just do as China says," Koizumi said in a parliamentary committee.

He hoped the neighboring countries would look beyond the controversy over his annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals.

"I do not think Yasukuni shrine is the core issue of Japan-China and Japan-South Korea ties. The core issue is that we should enhance our ties with future-oriented views," Koizumi said.

"There are some areas of disagreements. But what's important is that we should not be detracted by those issues and should work to enhance our friendly ties," he said.

Japan's relations with China and South Korea have seriously deteriorated in recent months over Koizumi's indications he will go again to Yasukuni shrine and Tokyo's approval of a history textbook accused of whitewashing its past militarism.

Koizumi was responding to questions by Katsuya Okada, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, who accused Koizumi of making comments to fuel nationalism among the public to increase his approval rate.

"Remember you as a prime minister must consider Japan's national interest. You as a prime minister have responsibility to improve ties" with South Korea and China, Okada said.

"Are you going to keep diplomatic ties chilled until your term ends next year?" Okada said. Koizumi plans to leave office in September 2006.

Okada urged Koizumi to build a secular memorial for the war dead to avoid the controversy over Yasukuni, a Shinto sanctuary.

Roh said the Japanese leader agreed during their summit in Seoul to look at the long-considered proposal of a secular memorial but Koizumi has made clear he would not regard any other site a "replacement" for Yasukuni shrine.