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Japanese Leader Apologizes For the Past

By Ellen Nakashima and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page A13

JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 22 -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated an apology for Japan's wartime acts in an attempt to mend fences with Beijing and persuade China's president, Hu Jintao, to meet with him on the sidelines of an Asia-Africa summit in Indonesia Friday.

"In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations," Koizumi said Friday in Jakarta.

Chinese President Hu Jintao was reported weighing Japanese leader's invitation to discuss tensions. (Darren Whiteside -- Reuters)

"Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility," Koizumi said, adding that Japan always had in mind "feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology."

Rather than "a new apology," Japanese officials in Tokyo categorized Koizumi's statement as a "reiteration" of statements made by Tomiichi Murayama, then Japan's prime minister, in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. But it nevertheless amounted to an olive branch extended to the Chinese in the hopes of easing tensions between the two major Asian powers.

Chinese officials said Thursday that President Hu Jintao was weighing the possibility of accepting the invitation to meet this weekend with Koizumi in Jakarta.

Japan's foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, predicted on Japanese television that the meeting would take place. He said it was intended to "confirm the importance of friendship between Japan and China." Japan's invitation came after several weeks of angry exchanges.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, took steps to control the anti-Japanese sentiment that generated raucous protests in a dozen Chinese cities over the past two weekends. Without calling a halt to the protests, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing reiterated Tuesday that people should not vent their feelings in unauthorized demonstrations.

The Foreign Ministry dispatched diplomats and other officials on a speaking tour to a half-dozen cities, where they urged students and bureaucrats not to let anger with Japan spill into disorder. In the same vein, People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, published the fourth of a series of articles stressing the need for harmony and calling on the public to let the government handle problems with Japan.

Even as Japan and China worked to assemble a summit, however, 168 Japanese lawmakers and political aides attended a controversial ceremony Friday morning at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which celebrates Japan's military dead, including World War II criminals. Past visits there by high officials, including Koizumi, have infuriated the Chinese and Koreans.

The number of officials worshiping at the shrine Friday was slightly higher than at a similar ceremony last autumn, when 160 attended. After the ceremony, Takao Fuji, a influential lawmaker from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, insisted the visits were nonpolitical and called on China and South Korea to "understand" that such rituals are part of Japan's Shinto religion and not meant as an offense. It was not immediately clear whether the visit would damage attempts for a Koizumi-Hu summit.

Among the points of contention between the two countries is Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, which China opposes because of the added international status Japan would acquire.

Also, China will not accept a Japanese role in the dispute over Taiwan, a senior Foreign Ministry official said. For that reason, he added, China strongly objects to Japan's recently renewed long-term strategic accord with the United States, in which the two countries for the first time listed peace in the Taiwan Strait as a shared strategic objective. The statement was interpreted here as suggesting that Japan might cooperate militarily with U.S. forces should a conflict erupt over Taiwan.

"It is very dangerous for Japan to get involved militarily or any other way in the Taiwan situation," the Chinese official said. "We hope no other country will help Japan to do anything wrong to the Chinese people."

Faiola reported from Tokyo. Correspondent Edward Cody in Beijing contributed to this report.

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