TOKYO – Most Japanese believe Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) should halt his annual visits to a Tokyo war shrine, poll results released Monday showed amid warnings from China that further visits will inflame troubled relations with Beijing.
The results come, however, a day after a ruling party lawmaker said that Koizumi likely intends to continue worshipping at Yasukuni Shrine (search), which honors war dead including convicted war criminals.
Koizumi has visited the shrine four times since becoming prime minister in April 2001, angering China, South Korea and other Asian countries, who say the shrine glorifies the Japanese military's brutal wartime invasions.
"I think Koizumi will visit the shrine again this year, while carefully considering the timing," Hidenao Nakagawa of the Liberal Democratic Party told a TV talk show.
Koizumi has argued that the visits are simply a way of paying respects to the country's war dead, rather than an honoring of Tokyo's wartime militarism.
Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing this past weekend, have repeatedly cited the visits in explaining deteriorating relations and anti-Japan protests in China last month.
In the TBS poll, the largest percentage of respondents attributed the surge in anti-Japan sentiments in China to Chinese education and its negative portrayal of Japan.
Respondents also cited Japan's own approach to history, wartime atrocities committed by Japan's military and visits to Yasukuni.
Tokyo-Beijing relations have sunk to the lowest level in decades since violent anti-Japan protests erupted last month in several Chinese cities over Tokyo's wartime past, and over Japan's push for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat.
The Yasukuni shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including a wartime prime minister and convicted war criminal Hideki Tojo (search). Another trip to the shrine this year by Koizumi would be certain to anger China, South Korea and other countries in the region.
But another LDP lawmaker, Koichi Kato who is a close Koizumi ally, said halting the visits would not help Japan-China relations. The only way to appease Beijing would be to find a different shrine for the convicted World War II criminals, or to set up a separate, secular war memorial, Kato said during the TV Asahi show Sunday.
Tokyo has been thinking of creating a secular memorial, but efforts have stalled.
Koizumi has not paid respects there since January 2004. He has been coy about further visits, saying only that worshipping at Yasukuni would be carefully considered. The visits are supported by ruling party's conservative wing, as well as a powerful lobbying group for family members of war dead.
The TBS poll questioned 1,210 people on May 5 to 8 by phone. No margin of error was provided.