Japan's Abe sends offering to controversial Yasukuni shrine

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japan's premier sent a ritual cash offering to a controversial Tokyo war shrine to mark the end of World War II Thursday but did not visit in person amid heightened tensions with South Korea.

Shinzo Abe sent an aide to Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Asian neighbours as a symbol of Japan's military past, according to his office, but once again stayed away from the site that honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

The conservative premier's move comes as Tokyo and South Korea -- one of the countries that suffered most from Japan's wartime military atrocities -- are embroiled in a war of words over trade and history.

Abe last visited the shrine in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, sparking fury in Beijing and Seoul and earning a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.

He has since stayed away as the leaders of both China and Japan attempt to maintain their improving but delicate relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Japan next year during spring cherry blossom season as ties warm between the two Asian giants.

The Yasukuni Shrine honours 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country's wars since the late 19th century.

It also enshrines senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after World War II.

This makes it a flashpoint for criticism from countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

There were no reports of members of Abe's cabinet visiting the shrine although dozens of parliament members are planning to make their annual pilgrimage.

Abe will speak later Thursday at a ceremony marking the anniversary. Emperor Naruhito will also give an address, his first commemorating the war's end since he took the throne in May.