The year 2005 will end with deteriorating Sino-Japanese political relations due to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.
Turning a deaf ear to the criticisms and protests at home and abroad, the prime minister has paid tribute to the shrine honoring 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including a dozen World War II criminals, for five consecutive years since he came to power in 2001.
Koizumi's action has seriously hurt the feelings of the people of the then war-torn countries in Asia, including China and South Korea, and badly damaged Japan's ties with its neighbors.
Reciprocal visits between the Chinese and Japanese leaders have been absent for four years and this is abnormal for two countries with frequent economic exchanges.
Even worse, Koizumi's obstinacy on the issue of shrine visits has brought all scheduled meetings to a halt, even on international occasions, including the postponed meeting among Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Kuala Lumpur this month.
Thus, the Sino-Japanese political relationship has been at a low ebb over the years. And Koizumi should be held accountable for this.
Koizumi's shrine tours have had dire political consequences as they have become a tremendous obstacle to the development of Sino-Japanese friendship and cooperation.
Only when the Japanese leaders take a correct attitude toward the country's history of aggression and express apology and remorse for Japan's war past, can the impasse be broken.
However, the Japanese leaders have been trying to justify the shrine visits.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has claimed that "the only countries in the world that talk about Yasukuni are China and South Korea" and Japan does not have to heed their calls.
Koizumi described the issue as "an invalid diplomatic card" wielded by China and South Korea when giving his explanation for the delay of the trilateral meeting.
The remarks by the Japanese leaders showed that they did not want to solve the problem and they had no respect for China and South Korea. Such an attitude has dampened the hope that the freezing Sino-Japanese relationship would thaw in the near future.
It is widely known that the Chinese and Japanese people are looking forward to common development and prosperity.
However, Koizumi's visits to the shrine have strained political relations, reduced mutual trust, intensified antagonism and put the two countries at odds. The situation has aroused concerns among the people in both countries.
The tension between the two countries not only hampers economic exchanges, it may also affect regional stability and development, analysts said.
Trade and economic cooperation between China and Japan have already been negatively affected by their tense political relationship, which has started cooling down extensive business activities between the two sides.
Japan's 11-year-old status as the largest trading partner of China has been taken over by the European Union.
In the first eight months of 2005, Sino-Japanese trade increased only by 10.3 percent, compared with the 23.5-percent growth achieved by China globally, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
The trade with Japan accounted for 14.5 percent of China's total foreign trade volume in 2004, down from the 17.5 percent in 2000, the ministry said.
As close neighbors with their economies remarkably complementary to each other, China and Japan are regrettably seeing their economic cooperation growing at a slower pace.
At the same time, the cold political ties hinder bilateral cooperation on large-scale economic projects.
Economists have warned that it is hard to maintain the flourishing economic relations between China and Japan as long as their political discord remains unsettled.
In order to put the Sino-Japanese relationship back on to the normal track, more joint efforts are needed to address the shrine issue, particularly positive actions by the Japanese leaders.
China and Japan need to conduct strategic dialogues and coordinate their positions on a wide range of issues, such as the environment, energy and security.
Koizumi's visits to the shrine are preventing the two sides from fully playing their roles in jointly dealing with international affairs. Japanese leaders should be aware of this.
Nevertheless, the Japanese prime minister has shown no sign of budging on the issue. His persistent visits to the war shrine have manifested his intent to distort history and glorify militarism. It is hoped that Japanese leaders would not further follow the wrong path and go down in Japan's modern history as people who have soured relations with neighboring countries.
(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2005)