Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday sent an offering to a controversial shrine to Japan’s war dead seen in China and the two Koreas as a symbol of Japan's past brutality and militarism, a move likely to spark protest, Kyodo news agency reported.
The offering at the Yasukuni Shrine spring festival came as Japan seeks greater cooperation with China and South Korea in the face of rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The premier is unlikely to visit the shrine during the festival, Kyodo said.
Visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo have outraged Asian neighbors since the shrine honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as A-Class war criminals, along with over 1,000 other war criminals.
Abe even visited the shrine in person in December 2013, a year after he became premier the previous year, sparking outcry in China and the two Koreas.
The Coming War on China
The Japanese leader also acts as a special advisor to the highly influential Nippon Kaigi, an ultra-nationalist State Shinto religious organization formed in 1997 that has been condemned for viewing the Empire of Japan in a favorable light as it seeks to remilitarize the country.
Nippon Kaigi has also been accused of denying Japanese war crimes in China and the two Koreas, including the severity of the Nanjing massacre and the prevalence of “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese imperial troops during World War II.
Like Abe, the organization also reaffirms Japan’s territorial claims over the Senkaku islands with China, a position that has also sparked major protests in Japan’s neighbor.
The decision by Abe to publicly pay his respects to Japan's war dead comes amid renewed tensions on the Korean peninsula, as Pyongyang remains angered by the deployment of Japanese warships alongside a U.S. Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson.