Japan, China leaders set to meet at summit, MPs visit controversial shrine

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 21, 2015 10:30 PM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Final arrangements are being made for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an Asia-Africa summit in Indonesia on Wednesday, NHK public TV reported, in the latest sign of a thaw in troubled ties.

Relations between the world's second and third biggest economies have chilled in recent years due to feuds over Japan's war-time past, bitter memories of which linger in China, as well as territorial rows and regional rivalry.

A meeting between the two leaders could promote a cautious rapprochement that began when Abe and Xi met at a summit late last year.

Abe is set to speak at the summit, which will be watched for hints about whether he wants to dilute past apologies over World War Two. Such a dilution would not sit well with China, Japan's war-time enemy and main regional rival.

Xi is attending the same summit in Jakarta and Abe has made it clear he wants to meet the Chinese leader in the Indonesian capital. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said he could not confirm that plans for a meeting were underway.

A Japanese government source has said that Abe, who returned to power in 2012, would express remorse over the war in Jakarta but media said he would not apologize.

Abe's upcoming speech in Jakarta, a speech to the U.S. Congress next week and a statement in August marking the anniversary of the end of World War Two could hold the key to whether the thaw in Sino-Japanese ties continues.

Some experts say Beijing has already decided the time is ripe for a cautious rapprochement.

Memories of Japan's past military aggression run deep in China 70 years after the end of World War Two and Beijing has repeatedly urged Japan to face up to history.

However, Abe treads a fine line between conservative political allies who favor visits to the shrine and want him to take a less apologetic stance toward the war, and a desire to improve ties with Beijing and Seoul.

Abe reiterated this week that he would uphold a landmark 1995 apology for Japan's role in the war by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama, but said he wanted to issue a forward-looking statement in his own words.

Scores of ruling and opposition party lawmakers and their aides paid their respects earlier on Wednesday at Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are also honored.

The lawmakers, wearing black suits, streamed into the shrine - regarded by Beijing as a symbol of Japan's past militarism - to honor the spirits of Japan's fallen troops at its annual spring festival.

Wednesday's offerings at the Yasukuni shrine come a day after Abe himself sent a potted tree as an offering. That gesture drew a relatively muted response from Beijing, raising hopes in Tokyo for an Abe-Xi meeting.

(Writing by Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies; additiona reporting by Teppei Kasai; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Paul Tait)