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Japan PM knocks China, South Korea over shrine row

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, Apr 25 (Reuters) Japan's prime minister, whose assertive security policy has raised concern in neighbouring states, urged China and South Korea today to drop objections to his visits to a controversial war shrine and agree to summit talks.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Beijing and Seoul would one day regret refusing a summit because of the annual visits.

Japan's ties with China and South Korea have deteriorated due to Koizumi's visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honours some convicted war criminals along with Japan's 2.5 million war dead.

Recent territorial disputes have further raised tensions.

''To refuse to hold discussions because of a single issue is something that I can't understand, and foreign leaders all understand what I am saying and say ... that China and South Korea are mistaken,'' Koizumi told reporters.

''Even now I have said that I'm ready to hold summit meetings at any time. I think that Japan-China friendship and Japan-South Korea friendship are very important both for Japan and the world.'' Koizumi, who says his visits are meant to pay respects to Japan's war dead and express appreciation for their sacrifices, was vague when asked if he planned future visits to the shrine.

''I think there will come a time when they will regret this, thinking 'Why did we say a strange thing like we can't have a summit meeting over such an issue,''' he said.

During his five-year tenure Koizumi has stirred concern among Japan's neighbours by raising his country's security profile, sending troops to Iraq and accelerating moves to revise a pacifist constitution.

Seoul and Tokyo reached a deal on Saturday to avoid a possible high-seas showdown after South Korea put its coast guard on high alert to thwart a Japanese plan to send survey ships to waters near a group of disputed islands.

President Roh Moo-hyun said on Tuesday that South Korea would never abandon the islands, called Tokto in Korean and Takeshima in Japan, which lie about midway between the mainlands of the two countries.

Japan is also locked in a territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny islands -- and potentially huge natural gas reserves -- in the East China Sea.

REUTERS CH RK1615

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