(AA) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to a controversial shrine for the country’s war dead Tuesday, a move that has previously drawn protests from neighbors over Tokyo’s approach toward its militarist past.
Abe sent a “masakaki” tree to the Yasukuni Shrine in a gesture suggesting he is unlikely to pay the site a visit during a three-day spring festival this week, Kyodo News reported.
The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo has been a source of tension between Japan and its neighbors, especially China and South Korea, as it honors 14 war criminals convicted by the Allies in the trials that followed World War II.
Abe’s offerings to the shrine during last year’s spring and autumn festivals were protested by China.
Following a similar tribute by Abe exactly a year ago, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang called on Japan to correct its mistakes on historic issues and to avoid inflaming emotions.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, told a press conference Tuesday that Abe’s offering served “a private capacity.”
“It is not a matter on which the government should state a view,” he stressed.
Kyodo reported that other high-ranking politicians had also sent offerings to the shrine, to which Abe’s special adviser Seiichi Eto paid a visit.
The premier is set to depart for Indonesia later Tuesday to attend the Asian-African Conference, during which he is scheduled to deliver a speech before traveling to the United States next week.
Visits by Japanese officials to Yasukuni, including one by Abe in Dec. 2013, have drawn criticism as they are viewed as a sign of Japan failing to atone for its past imperialist aggression. Conservative politicians in the country have been accused of repeatedly downgrading previous statements of apology.
Abe himself has previously defended visiting sites like Yasukuni as a way of promoting peace by ensuring the past is not forgotten.
The premier will have the opportunity for a definitive say on the issue Aug. 15, when he is expected to issue a statement in recognition of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat.