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Korea, China Angry with Japan PM's Shrine Visit

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Japan's prime minister has outraged his Asian neighbors by visiting a controversial war shrine in Tokyo. The visit came on the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, and its prompted angry reaction from the region.

From Shanghai, NPR's Louisa Lim has this report.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

LOUISA LIM reporting:

The visit was aired live on Japanese television. Viewers could see Junichiro Koizumi dressed in a mourning suit, bowing before entering the inner shrine.

Last year he wore less formal clothing and stayed away from the innermost shrine to avoid causing offense to Japan's neighbors.

Fourteen convicted Class A war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni, but the Japanese Prime Minister denied he was glorifying militarism.

Prime Minister JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI (Japan): (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: I am not going there for the Class A war criminals, he said. I'm going to mourn the many who made sacrifices. He then brushed aside Chinese and South Korean criticism of the shrine visits as immature. There've been howls of diplomatic protest from South Korea and China.

Pat Cho Hi(ph), from Seoul National University, explains why.

Mr. PAT CHO HI (Seoul National University): Japan is sending a mixed signal to Asians, apologizing the war and the colonial experience, but at the same time making provocative remarks about the colonial rule (unintelligible), or even paying visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

(Soundbite of Japanese television broadcast)

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Foreign Language)

LIM: In a televised statement, China accused Koizumi of wrecking ties between the two countries. South Korea has also expressed its displeasure. Both countries have been refusing to hold bilateral summits with Japan. Ties are at their lowest point in decades. Any further damage to relations is likely to follow the emerging trend: cold politics, hot economics.

Sukon Oh(ph), a Korean professor at Shanghai's Tunghua(ph) University, explains how that works.

Professor SUKON OH (Tunghua University, Shanghai): The influence will be limited only in the areas politic runs. Korean government and China's government, they don't want any harm through effect to the economic relations or any other relations with Japan.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

LIM: Last year, China saw a surge in anti-Japanese nationalism, with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets. Today's pilgrimage on this most emotionally charged of days is Koizumi's parting shot. He's due to step down as prime minister next month.

Goi Dang Ping(ph), from Fudan University's Japan Research Center, says this won't necessarily solve the problems.

Mr. GOI DANG PING (Fudan University Japan Research Center): (Through translator) Although Koizumi won't still be in power, he's setting an example for his successor. In the future, I think there'll be more animosity and friction between China and Japan because of deep-seated resentment and practical conflicts of interest.

LIM: The visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are divisive not just in Asia, but in Japan itself, where they're opposed by almost half the population. The issue is becoming a key one in the race for Koizumi's successor.

No matter who takes on the mantle, they'll have a hard time satisfying both sides of domestic public opinion, let alone repairing the international damage done by these visits.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.