Abe dedicates offerings at controversial shrine

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Abe dedicates offerings at controversial shrine


A religious offering dedicated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen Tuesday in the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. [AP/NEWSIS]

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent religious offerings Tuesday to a Tokyo shrine that honors convicted World War II leaders among its war dead, a likely signal that he will not pray there ahead of trips to Asia and the United States.

Previous visits and offerings to the controversial Yasukuni shrine have drawn sharp rebukes from China and Korea. Abe’s last visit to Yasukuni, in December 2013, also drew criticism from Washington.

The shrine said Abe sent “masakaki” offerings, with a name card showing his name and official title. He sent similar offerings marking last year’s spring and fall festivals at the shrine, which honors war criminals including wartime leader Hideki Tojo, among the 2.5 million war dead.

Even though Abe’s offerings signal he will not be praying at the shrine during this year’s spring festival, they still come at a sensitive time.

Abe heads to Indonesia later on Tuesday for an Asia-African conference ahead of his U.S. visit next week. He has expressed hopes of meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Wednesday-Thursday conference, where both will be among the more than 100 leaders taking part.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe made the gesture as a private citizen based on his personal beliefs, and paid for the offerings himself. He said Abe’s offerings did not represent the government’s position as a whole, and brushed off concerns about any diplomatic impact.

As victims of Japan’s wartime aggressions, neighboring countries see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism. They also see visits by Japanese political leaders as a sign of Japan’s lack of remorse over its atrocities.

Soured relations following Abe’s 2013 Yasukuni visit had kept Abe and Xi from holding talks until November, when they met during the Asia-Pacific economic conference. There have been signs of a thaw in Japan-China relations since, but Abe still has not held bilateral talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have also been compounded by territorial disputes over a group of Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China.

Japan’s health minister, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, also sent similar offerings to the shrine Tuesday, the first day of Yasukuni’s spring festival, one of the annual events when conservative politicians regularly visit.

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