Japan PM's wife visits controversial war shrine

Mrs Akie Abe posted a picture of herself standing next to a senior priest at the Yasukuni shrine on Tuesday.
Mrs Akie Abe posted a picture of herself standing next to a senior priest at the Yasukuni shrine on Tuesday.PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF AKIE ABE

Abe skips Yasukuni visit; wife's trip seen as appeasing his nationalist supporters

TOKYO • The wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a Tokyo war shrine, days after he stayed away from the controversial place of worship on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Mrs Akie Abe posted a picture of herself standing next to a senior priest at Yasukuni shrine on her Facebook page on Tuesday.

She wrote that it felt different from the last time she paid her respects in May because it came days after she went to the Chiran airbase in southern Japan, a departure point for kamikaze pilots during the war.

Mrs Abe may have visited the shrine to appease her husband's nationalist base after he made a statement that noted the "immeasurable damage and suffering" that Japan inflicted on neighbouring countries.

While her previous Yasukuni trip did not draw any public expressions of anger from China or South Korea, Tuesday's visit comes amid reports that Mr Abe is considering a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing next month.

"It appears that Abe is having his wife do what would be awkward for him do," said Mr Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan.

"Thus, it averts a political row while reassuring his base."

Rather than making a personal visit on Aug 15, Mr Abe made a donation to the shrine, which honours millions of Japanese war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals. More than 60 lawmakers and three Cabinet ministers visited that day, prompting China to voice its "strong dissatisfaction".

Mr Abe's own visit to Yasukuni in December 2013 led to a deterioration in relations with China and South Korea and prompted a rebuke from the United States.

Criticism by China and South Korea of Mr Abe's statement last Friday was muted, despite Mr Abe saying that Japan should not be expected to continually apologise for a conflict that ended 70 years ago.

The Japanese leader is slated to meet Mr Xi on Sept 3, the day of a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Mainichi newspaper reported. Mr Abe does not plan to attend the morning parade, which marks what China calls the "War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression", the Mainichi said.

Instead, he will probably meet Mr Xi in the afternoon, according to the report, citing diplomatic sources. Japanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Takako Ito said nothing has been decided yet.

If Mr Abe meets Mr Xi, it will be the third bilateral meeting between the two leaders, showing how ties have gradually recovered.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Japan PM's wife visits controversial war shrine'. Print Edition | Subscribe