SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Xinhuanet,by Wang Mian) -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Monday visit to the Yasukuni Shrine which honors war criminals aroused furious in its close neighbor - South Korea.
Only one hour after Koizumi's visit to the shrine, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon called in Japanese Ambassador to Seoul, Shotaro Oshima to lodge protest over the latest and fifth visit made by Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine, where 2 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II, are honored.
The South Korean foreign minister delivered his "deep regret and disappointment" over Koizumi's visit to the shrine in a very strong tone.
"It is not too much to say that the biggest obstacle to the estranged relations between South Korea and Japan is Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine," Ban said.
Before a score of reporters, Ban Ki-moon criticized Koizumi's action, saying Koizumi's repeated visits to the shrine "destroyed the two nations' efforts to further thaw relations."
Ban's remarks was referring to the summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Koizumi in Seoul in June this year.
Relations between South Korea and Japan turned strained in the first half of this year due to their dispute over a group of islets located in the East Sea (Sea of Japan).
The islets, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, have been the fuse of disputes between the two nations.
Japan authorized a set of revised school textbooks in February this year, some of which beautify Japan's aggression past and include content backing Japan's claim to the controversial islets.
Anti-Japan sentiment was prevalent in South Korea at that time,when the two countries planned to hold a host of events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.
As an effort to improve relations, Roh Moo-hyun and Koizumi held summit in June, but no breakthrough was made during the summit over history issue and territory disputes.
Earlier Monday, almost at the same time when Ban summoned the Japanese envoy, the South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a strong-worded statement, condemning Koizumi's shrine visit.
"The South Korean Government cannot but feel disappointment andindignation over Koizumi's paying tribute again at the shrine thatglorifies the Japanese history of invasion despite the fact that relations between Japan and neighboring countries have been greatly strained on account of the issue involving his behavior," said the statement.
"If Japan has a genuine determination to develop future-oriented friendly relations with South Korea and to assume a responsible role in the international community, it should seriously reflect on history and show in its actions its determination to do so," said the statement.
Rarely, the statement urged twice the Japanese prime minister and responsible leaders not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine any more.
South Korean political parties, either ruling or opposition, all expressed their deep regret, noting that Koizumi's visits to the controversial shrine would only lead to Japan's isolation in the international community.
Besides expressing anger over the shrine visit, the South Korean Presidential Office also hinted to reconsider a new Seoul-Tokyo summit which is under discussion.
Roh's spokesman said Roh may consider canceling the summit withKoizumi which is tentatively scheduled for the end of this year.
"Until now there have been discussions of the president's visitto Japan through various channels. From today on, however, it cannot be said that the president's Japanese visit is still under study," Kim Man-soo, Roh's spokesman, said at a press briefing.
"This means there can be changes to the (president's) schedule," he added.
The two leaders kicked off their so-called "shuttle diplomacy" in 2004 by holding summit meetings twice a year. Up to now, three rounds of summit meetings have been held.
But, it seems their differences over the history issue are still deep.
In this June, Roh stated the Yasukuni Issue is the core of the South Korea-Japan relations, urging Koizumi to make a "courageous decision" on it. While the Japanese premier defended himself, saying he visits the shrine not to beautify or justify the war, but to mourn the dead in the war. Enditem