Abe's December 26 visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese
leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined along with other
war dead, infuriated China and South Korea and prompted concern from
the United States, a key ally.
"Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important
for the peace and security of this region," Abe told a news
conference after paying a customary New Year's visit to a shrine in
the central Japanese city of Ise.
"I would like to explain my true intentions regarding my visit to
Yasukuni. There aren't any direct approaches being made to set up
such meetings at present, but the door for dialogue is open, as
always," Abe added, using what has become a standard phrase
regarding summits with his northeast Asian neighbors.
China and South Korea have been especially touchy about visits to
the shrine by serving Japanese prime ministers and Abe is the first
leader to pay homage at Yasukuni while in office since 2006.
Paying respects at Yasukuni is part of Abe's conservative agenda to
restore Japan's pride in its past and recast its wartime history
with a less apologetic tone. He also wants to ease the restraints of
Japan's post-World War Two pacifist constitution on the military, a
move also likely to infuriate China and South Korea.
Abe said he hoped to deepen debate about constitutional reform
within Japan and that he was confident he could make Beijing and
"I am sure that I will be able to obtain the understanding of nearby
nations about my administration's pursuit of peace if I explain it
thoroughly," he said.
[to top of second column]
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed
"Prime Minister Abe has paid lip service to the development of
Sino-Japanese relations, but in reality, his statements are
hypocritical," Hua said. "It is he who has personally closed the
door to dialogue with Chinese leaders."
Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of
China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from 1910 to 1945.
Business ties between China and Japan, the world's second- and
third-largest economies, have improved after a downturn sparked by a
flare-up in 2012 in a row over tiny East China Sea islands
controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
But worries are growing that an unintended incident between Japanese
and Chinese aircraft and ships playing cat-and-mouse near the
disputed isles could escalate into a military clash.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan
in Beijing; editing by Nick Macfie)
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