The increasing opposition of Japanese people to their leader's diplomatically harmful visits to a shrine honoring convicted war criminals signals progress in tense Sino-Japanese relations, Chinese analysts say.
A survey in the Tokyo newspaper Mainichi showed that 54 percent of 1,065 Japanese respondents said that whoever succeeds Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who will step down in September should not visit Yasukuni Shrine.
Thirty-three percent supported the visits, with the rest undecided, a poll found last weekend.
Mainichi's last poll in January had both supporters and opponents at 47 percent.
Another survey, conducted by the Nihon Keizai business newspaper published at the same time as the most recent Mainichi poll, showed similar results, with 53 percent opposing the prime minister's war shrine visits, 28 percent supporting them and 19 percent undecided.
The shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted class-A World War II war criminals.
Huang Xingyuan, a scholar on Sino-Japanese relations, attributed the rise in opposition to Japan's prolonged diplomatic row with its Asian neighbors.
"Japan's frigid ties with China and South Korea have already emerged as the focal point in Japanese society as well as in the race to succeed Koizumi, which has helped the public march toward a correct understanding of the Yasukuni Shrine," Huang said.
"China cannot make any concessions on Yasukuni."
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the candidate most favored to succeed Koizumi as prime minister, is unlikely to visit the shrine on August 15, ahead of the ruling party's presidential election, according to Japanese media.
The date marks the 61st anniversary of Japan's surrender in the war. Koizumi is widely expected to make a final visit to Yasukuni on that day, which a majority of respondents also opposed, Mainichi said.
Huang said the change in attitude adopted by the Japanese public on the issue will help the resumption and development of the bilateral ties.
Bu Ping, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the insignificant rise cannot prove anything because the numbers of pro- and anti-visit responders has stayed about even for some time.
He said the Yasukuni Shrine issue is complicated but agreed that the growing number against the visits, no matter how small, is a positive sign.
As far as public response, Liu Liu, a 26-year-old civil servant in south China's Guangdong Province, said Koizumi's visits have been to satisfy political purposes without regard for public opinion.
"The final say depends on the Japanese government, not the people," she said, "However, the poll will at least urge the government to review its current attitude."
(China Daily July 25, 2006)