Koizumi Exits Office as He Arrived: Defiant on War Shrine

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With each annual visit Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has paid to the Yasukuni Shrine, the war memorial linked to Japan’s imperial past, the damage to the nation’s relations with China and South Korea has worsened.

Even as Mr. Koizumi claimed a more assertive role for Japan in the world — and called for China’s and South Korea’s endorsement to realize it — he chose to be unyielding on his visits to Yasukuni, the one issue that was certain to offend them to the core and stir up memories of exactly why they fear a newly assertive Japan.

One result was that by Mr. Koizumi’s last year in office, China’s and South Korea’s leaders refused to talk with him. But true to himself to the very end, Mr. Koizumi paid his sixth and most likely last visit as prime minister — he retires next month — to the shrine early Tuesday morning, on the anniversary of the end of World War II and East Asia’s liberation from Japanese rule.

Mr. Koizumi not only chose the most provocative of days, but responded angrily to his critics in a news conference after his visit. He blamed China and South Korea for worsening relations, saying he had always been ready to meet with their leaders despite their opposition to Japan’s efforts to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

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