Abe's decision not to visit Yasukuni "looks to future"

The visiting chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision not to visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, saying it "looks to the future."

Robert Menendez, who will talk with Abe on Thursday, told reporters in Tokyo the decision is "an expression of looking towards the future and understanding the importance of his decision in context of Japan's future in the region," given that the Tokyo shrine is seen by other Asian countries as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Separately, Menendez called for the restoration of Japan-China relations during a meeting with the leader of the New Komeito party, the junior partner in Japan's ruling coalition.

Menendez told Natsuo Yamaguchi that Japan is the axis of U.S. policy for stability in Asia and the United States wants to overcome regional challenges in cooperation with Japan.

He also said the United States, Japan and South Korea should deepen cooperation, but that did not mean ganging up on China, according to a New Komeito lawmaker who briefed reporters after the meeting at the Diet building.

Given repeated intrusions by Chinese vessels in what Japan claims as its territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Yamaguchi said, "It is important to avoid a contingency by setting up a maritime communication system."

Yamaguchi said New Komeito intends to deal with the issue by keeping in mind the importance of dialogue.

On the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Menendez was quoted as saying that he wants to proceed with the relocation of U.S. forces to Guam, but given the importance of the U.S. military role in the Asia-Pacific region, he wants to maintain a good balance in the area.

The meeting took place ahead of Yamaguchi's planned trip to Washington and New York from Sept. 8 to 13.