updated 3/31/2006 11:28:15 PM ET 2006-04-01T04:28:15

Chinese President Hu Jintao made a rare conciliatory gesture to Japan on Friday, offering to hold a summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi if he stops visiting a war shrine that other Asian nations consider offensive.

The Chinese government has criticized Koizumi for visiting the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead — including convicted war criminals. South Korea also has disapproved of the visits.

Relations between Beijing and Tokyo also are strained over competing claims to undersea resources, China’s growing military power and Japanese schoolbooks that critics say downplay Tokyo’s wartime aggression.

“If the Japanese leaders stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, I’m willing to meet with them,” state television quoted Hu as saying to a group of Japanese visitors.

Koizumi gave Hu’s offer a cool reception.

“Because I’m (still) visiting Yasukuni Shrine, I don’t think it would be good to comply with a summit meeting,” the Japanese leader said in Tokyo, according to the Kyodo News agency.

Hu and Koizumi last met at a regional summit in Jakarta in 2005, when the two countries’ relations were at their lowest ebb in decades after violent demonstrations in Beijing and Shanghai against new Japanese textbooks.

Hu made his summit offer in remarks to a delegation led by former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto that visited at the invitation of the China-Japan Friendship Association.

Hu “repeatedly emphasized this point,” Hashimoto said later at a news conference.

Beijing: Japanese leaders to blame
Hu emphasized that Beijing holds Japanese leaders responsible for strained ties.

“China and the Japanese people are not responsible for the difficulties between China and Japan,” an announcer on the state TV evening news paraphrased Hu as saying.

“These are caused by the Japanese leaders who keep visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. It hurts the feelings of the victims’ country and damages the political foundation of Sino-Japanese relations.”

China was angered anew this week when Japan’s Education Ministry approved textbooks that say a disputed island chain in the East China Sea — called the Senkakus by Japan and the Diaoyu by China — is an integral part of Japan.

China lodged an official protest Friday.

Japan’s territorial claims also have strained ties with South Korea.

Tokyo claims Korean-held islets, called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, in school textbooks to be used next year.

South Korea urged Japan on Thursday to withdraw its latest claim to the islets and lodged an official protest.

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