BUSAN, (South Korea), Nov 15 (AFP): China Tuesday accused Japanese leaders of worshipping war criminals and urged them to learn from Germany's rejection of Adolf Hitler and to stop upsetting their Asian neighbours.
Raising the stakes in the row over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a controversial war shrine, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Japan must show more remorse for wartime atrocities.
"If a German leader went and worshipped Hitler, worshipped the Nazis, how would the European people look at this? Would this hurt their feelings? You should think about this carefully," Li told reporters.
"Yet Japanese leaders are worshipping these war criminals that harmed so many Chinese people. What are they thinking? Are they even thinking that they are hurting the feelings of so many people of Asia?"
Li was speaking after talks at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, during which both countries condemned the shrine visits.
Less than a month before this week's meetings, Koizumi made his fifth visit to the Yasukuni shrine since taking office. The Shinto sanctuary honours 2.5 million war dead including 14 top war criminals from World War II.
Koizumi insists his visits to the shrine are to commemorate the dead and reconfirm Japan's commitment to pacifism, but many Asian countries see them as proof Japan has not come to terms with its past aggression.
Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Yoshinori Katori said he was not aware of Li's comments.
"But the stance of our prime minister and the government of Japan over the issue of his visit to Yasukuni Shrine is unchanged," he told AFP.
"Both China and South Korea are our important partners. All we can do is to continue making an effort to gain their understanding of his visits through dialogue."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao confirmed that President Hu Jintao would refuse to meet Koizumi at the APEC summit that begins here Friday.
"We don't think the atmosphere or conditions are ripe for a summit meeting between the two sides," he told reporters in Beijing.
China alleges that up to 30 million people were killed during Japan's brutal invasion and occupation of large parts of China between 1937-45.
China and South Korea are also angry about Japan's approval of school textbooks which they say gloss over wartime atrocities, and both states opposed Japan's failed bid for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat.
Under Koizumi relations between Tokyo and Beijing have hit their lowest point since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1972. Anger over the textbooks and the UN bid triggered massive anti-Japanese protests in China in April.
Koizumi's government in turn has taken an increasingly strident tone with China, believing Beijing will not budge on a host of disputes including the sharing of energy resources in the East China Sea.
Amid continuing tension with Beijing, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has sought to improve ties with South Korea, which like China harbours resentment over its occupation by imperial Japan from 1910-45.
South Korea's Ban met Aso Monday and also gave a frank message to Japanese leaders over the Yasukuni shrine.
"Minister Ban asked Japanese government leaders to act in such a way as to lead the Korean people to believe in Japan's apology and repentance over the past," a senior South Korean official told reporters.
Despite anger with Japan over the textbook and Yasukuni issues, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has promised to meet Koizumi at this week's summit out of courtesy because he is the summit host.