TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may make a ritual offering to a shrine seen as a symbol of Japan’s former militarism, media said on Wednesday — a move likely to anger China and risk tentative diplomatic overtures.
An offering on Thursday, the emotive anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War Two, would highlight the fine line Abe seeks to tread between mending frayed China ties and appealing to his conservative support base. A similar move in April infuriated China and South Korea, both victims of wartime aggression.
Abe is likely to skip visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to war dead, where people convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are also honoured. But he may make the offering through a representative of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japanese media said.
Neither the prime minister’s office nor LDP headquarters could confirm the media reports.
Abe and other conservatives say it is only natural to pay respects at Yasukuni to those who died for their country, especially on Aug 15, but Tokyo hopes that if Abe stays away on the day it could score points with China and help pave the way for a summit that Japan has been signalling it wants.
At least two cabinet members and a ruling party executive are likely to visit the shrine in central Tokyo, prompting China’s Foreign Ministry to say last week that visits by Japanese political leaders were unacceptable in any form.
A group of conservative lawmakers is also expected to pay their respects.
Relations between Japan and China have been strained for months, largely because of a dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that worsened in September when Japan bought several of the islands from a private owner.
Ship and aircraft have for months played a cat-and-mouse game near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, ratcheting up tensions, with Chinese ships venturing in and out of what Japan considers its territorial waters.
Last week, Japan summoned an envoy from the Chinese embassy and protested after four Chinese ships lingered near the islands for more than 24 hours.
Abe has called for dialogue with China, although he has rejected any conditions on talks, and several of his advisers have visited Beijing in the past few months. But China has denied that any talks are taking place towards a summit.