People pay tribute to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2019, on the 74th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine for war dead on Thursday, the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender, Kyodo News said, a gesture likely to be criticized by Asian neighbors.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged South Korea and China because the shrine honors 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals. Protests from Seoul could be especially strong this year because bilateral relations are at their lowest level in years after a series of disputes.
Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister and now special aide to Abe, made the offering on the premier’s behalf, Kyodo said. A spokeswoman for the shrine could not immediately confirm the offering.
Abe has only visited the shrine in person once since taking office in 2012 but has regularly sent offerings on Aug. 15 and during the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals.
China’s relations with Japan have long been haunted by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, while bitter memories of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of Korea remain.
Relations between Japan and South Korea deteriorated after a ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court last year that Japanese companies should compensate South Koreans conscripted as forced laborers during World War Two. Tokyo says the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty normalizing ties.
The two nations this month ended each others’ fast-track trade status and Tokyo on Tuesday urged caution for travelers to South Korea ahead of crucial anniversaries this week. South Korea celebrates Aug. 15 as a national day of liberation from Japanese rule.
Reporting by Chris Gallagher and Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry