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Abe sends donation to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine on war anniversary

Monday, August 15, 2016 - 09:30
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sidestepped a visit to a controversial Tokyo war shrine on the anniversary of the nation's defeat in World War II, opting instead to send a ritual donation - a move still likely to provoke criticism from its East Asian neighbors.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sidestepped a visit to a controversial Tokyo war shrine on the anniversary of the nation's defeat in World War II, opting instead to send a ritual donation - a move still likely to provoke criticism from its East Asian neighbors.

The Yasukuni Shrine is seen by some in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined there, along with millions of war dead.

Japan's hawkish new Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was also widely expected to visit the site but opted to travel to Djibouti on her first overseas trip in the post. A group of lawmakers is set to pay their respects later Monday.

Mr Abe's offering comes as China steps up pressure on Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, with coast guard vessels and fishing boats spotted in recent weeks in what Japan regards as its territorial waters. Tokyo has repeatedly protested to Beijing over the issue, while the Nikkei newspaper said officials have complained about what Japan said was the installation of a military-grade radar on a gas platform near the median line between the two nations.

Such incidents show an escalation of the long-running dispute between Asia's two largest economies - China is also Japan's largest trading partner - and raise the risk of an unintended military clash.

The friction may hamper the chances of a summit between Mr Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in China next month.

"If the situation continues to escalate, skirmishes around the Diaoyu islands cannot be ruled out," Mr Su said, using the Chinese name for the islands known as the Senkakus in Japan.

"Sino-Japanese relations now face the toughest stretch since the nationalisation of the islands in 2012."

China sent a message to Japan through diplomatic channels discouraging cabinet ministers from visiting Yasukuni, the Asahi newspaper reported Friday, citing multiple unidentified diplomatic sources.

The paper reported that Beijing has postponed a planned visit by assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou to Japan this month due to Tokyo's repeated protests over the actions in the East China Sea.

US President Barack Obama will discuss the East China Sea with Mr Xi at the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, the Nikkei newspaper reported Friday, without saying where it got the information.

"Obama will seek a balance between China and Japan, and if Japan leans too far towards the right, he would certainly not further help with that direction," said Mr Su from Shanghai Normal University.

In December 2013, Mr Abe drew a rebuke from China after he became the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Yasukuni in seven years.

While he has since only made offerings and donations, his wife has visited on at least a couple of occasions. The US embassy in Japan issued a statement at the time rebuking Mr Abe over his visit to the shrine.

BLOOMBERG