Japan, Asia must accept gaps over war history says Japan's foreign minister

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Japan and its Asian neighbours must agree to disagree over wartime history in order to move forward toward better ties, says Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, a dark horse candidate to be Japan's next prime minister.

"Even among the same Americans, Yankees refer to the war between the North and the South as the 'Civil War', and those in Dixie call it the 'Northern Invasion'," Aso told Reuters in a wide-ranging interview this week.

"Even among the same Anglo-Saxon peoples or citizens of the same country, there are lots of matters concerning history about which there is no agreement," he added.

"So unless they consider what to do based on the recognition that they have different perceptions of history -- if they just stick to the issue of perceptions of history -- there will not be forward progress."

Japan's relations with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Tokyo's wartime aggression run deep, have been chilled by Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine.

World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured there alongside Japan's war dead.

Aso said he felt ties with Beijing were on the mend and that it was in both sides' interests for that trend to continue.

"Japan and China share mutual interests in many areas," he said, citing energy and the environment as examples.

"I think it is in the interests of both sides to demonstrate that to their people concretely and expand cooperative relations," he said, adding China's economy would suffer if political strains caused a fall in capital investment from Japan.

Diplomacy toward China and South Korea has emerged as a focal point in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) race to replace Koizumi as party president, and hence, prime minister.

Some business executives worry ties would remain frayed if frontrunner Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, known for his tough stance toward North Korea and China, or Aso, win the post.

Veteran lawmaker Yasuo Fukuda, who ranks second in surveys of voter preference for the next prime minister, has criticised Koizumi's Asian diplomacy and backs a proposal for a secular war memorial where Japan can honour war dead without offending its neighbours.

A political blue-blood whose father negotiated the peace treaty ending World War Two, Aso has backed Koizumi's right to visit Yasukuni and himself paid respects there in the past.

He has stirred anger in the two Koreas for remarks perceived as trying to justify Japan's 1919-1945 colonisation of the peninsula and faced criticism from some who want him to atone for the use of Korean forced labourers at a firm run by his family.

Like Abe, Aso is playing his cards close to his chest on whether he would make a pilgrimage to Yasukuni if elected prime minister.

"I have said all along that I will make an appropriate decision," Aso said. "Basically, it is a domestic issue."

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