• Kyodo

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China on Tuesday reminded Japan of the sensitivity of the Yasukuni Shrine issue in their relations following news that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an offering to the Shinto shrine in late April.

While Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu avoided directly criticizing Abe, she told reporters at a regular news briefing, “The Yasukuni Shrine issue is an important and sensitive political issue in China-Japan relations.”

Jiang also suggested the two sides had come to an informal agreement on the issue, saying, “The two countries have reached consensus on overcoming political obstacles and promoting cooperative relations.”

She said Abe should abide by that agreement.

Abe offered 50,000 yen for a “sakaki” plant to be dedicated to the shrine during its April 21-23 spring festival. A wooden plate attached to it read, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.”

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to the shrine angered China. Abe, who has been keen to mend fences with China, so far has remained vague about whether he will make the pilgrimage.

China’s comments Tuesday appeared mild compared with past criticism directed at Tokyo over what Chinese leaders see as Japan’s failure to properly address its wartime aggression in Asia.

In her short statement in response to a question on Abe’s gift, spokeswoman Jiang did not refer to the prime minister by name or say exactly how seriously Beijing views the issue.

The mild tone reflects the feeling among academics and officials in China that Abe will not risk harming increasingly warm Sino-Japanese ties by visiting the shrine.

“If efforts by both sides . . . can convince the Japanese public that Sino-Japanese ties are very important, most Japanese voters will not approve of Abe’s visit to the war shrine,” Tao Wenzhao, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote last month in the state-run China Daily.

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