Japan PM Abe makes ritual offering at Yasukuni shrine to war dead

 A visitor bowing after he offered prayers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan.
A visitor bowing after he offered prayers at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday (April 21) sent a ritual offering to a controversial Tokyo shrine for war dead, a move that could anger China as the Asian neighbours prepare for a meeting to help smooth ties.

Mr Abe's spring festival offering at the Yasukuni shrine, which some see as a symbol of Japanese militarism in World War Two as it honours convicted war criminals among other war dead, comes as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida prepares to visit Beijing.

Mr Kishida is likely to meet Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on April 30 in a bid to ease friction over issues such as sovereignty disputes over the South China Sea, Japanese media have said.

An official in the shrine's public relations department confirmed Mr Abe's offering, but declined to be identified, in line with its policy.

Mr Abe is likely to avoid the more provocative step of attending the spring festival at the shrine, media said.

His visit to Yasukuni in December 2013 angered China and South Korea and provoked rare criticism from key ally the United States because the shrine honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, along with war dead.

Since becoming premier in late 2012, Mr Abe has sent ritual offerings to the annual spring and autumn festivals. He sent a cash offering last August, at the time of the 70th anniversary of Japan's World War Two defeat, but did not visit.