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Japan PM says he backs friendly ties with China

Written by: Staff

OTTAWA, June 28 (Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said today he wants friendly ties with China, just a day after he criticized Beijing's stand on his controversial visits to a Tokyo shrine dedicated to Japan's war dead.

In a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Koizumi said he has never taken the view that China poses a threat to Japan, but rather that he sees the emergence of China as an economic competitor as an opportunity.

A Japanese official quoted Koizumi as telling Harper that despite Tokyo's icy ties with Beijing, he continues to hope for an amicable relationship. ''I am a backer of friendly Japan-China ties,'' he said.

Koizumi is on a four-day visit to Canada and the United States.

Yesterday, he defended his annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, and criticized Beijing for refusing to hold official summit meetings with him.

The leaders of the two countries have only met on the sidelines of multilateral forums.

Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine since taking office in 2001 have been at the center of Tokyo's worsening ties with Beijing and Seoul as the Shinto shrine honors some convicted Japanese war criminals along with the country's war dead.

The Japanese leader has said he goes to Yasukuni not to glorify war but to pay respects to the war dead and to vow never to stage war again.

He has yet to visit the central Tokyo shrine this year. He last went in October 2005.

Reuters SK VP0130

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