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Abe to avoid controversial Yasukuni Shrine visit during spring festival

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided not to visit war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo during its annual spring festival from April 21 to 23, a government source said Monday.

Abe, who will be in Indonesia attending the Asian-African Conference in Bandung on April 22 and 23, plans to again send a ritual Shinto offering to the shrine, the source said, a move nevertheless expected to infuriate China and South Korea, which suffered from Japan’s wartime aggression and view the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

Abe has apparently decided against another Yasukuni visit because his behavior is likely to be under close scrutiny this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Still, by dedicating a “masakaki” tree offering, he also hopes to appease conservative supporters who want him to pay homage to Yasukuni.

Past visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine, which honors millions of war dead along with convicted Class-A war criminals, have often sparked diplomatic friction in the region.

Abe is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Bandung conference in Indonesia and address the U.S. Congress when he visits Washington from April 27.

Abe’s previous visit to the shrine, in December 2013, not only drew immediate rebukes from China and South Korea, but also prompted the United States, Japan’s key ally, to express rare “disappointment” with Tokyo for exacerbating regional tensions.

The annual spring festival comes amid emerging signs of a thaw in Sino-Japanese relations, which were recently strained by differing perceptions of wartime history and Japan’s effective nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, which China and Taiwan claim.

Abe held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November, setting off a series of bilateral exchanges.

But he has yet to hold a summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye because of the ongoing dispute over the ianfu, or “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the thousands of mostly Korean girls and women who were forced to provide sex to Imperial Japanese soldiers in military brothels before and during the war.

Japan is also upset with Seoul’s handling of a Japanese reporter on trial for allegedly defaming Park last year.