• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit war-related Yasukuni Shrine’s autumn festival this week, in an attempt to improve strained ties with China and South Korea, a government source said Saturday.

Instead of going to the shrine, Abe is considering sending a “masakaki” tree traditionally used in Shinto rituals, just as he did in April for its spring festival, the source said.

Abe apparently is looking to appease China and South Korea, who vehemently oppose visits by Japanese prime ministers and Diet members to the controversial shrine, as well as conservative voters who returned his Liberal Democratic Party to power last year, the source said.

The position of the United States, which is concerned about further deterioration in Japan’s relations with its two neighbors, was another factor behind Abe’s decision to stay away from the festival, which begins Thursday, according to the source.

Yasukuni is viewed by many Asian countries as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it enshrines 14 convicted or accused Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead.

In a television program aired Friday, Abe wouldn’t be drawn on whether he would attend the shrine’s fall festival, while a source at the Prime Minister’s Office claimed Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul are not as poor as they are portrayed in the media.

But given that Abe has been calling for dialogue with Chinese and South Korean leaders, visiting Yasukuni would risk undermining his position, the source said.

The prime minister has reiterated that his administration is open to holding talks with Beijing and Seoul despite territorial disputes and differing historical interpretations stymieing relations.

Abe briefly shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Bali, Indonesia, last week, but no meaningful exchanges took place among them.

Meanwhile, three members of the Abe Cabinet — Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the North Korea abductee issue, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo and administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada — are mulling visits to the shrine’s festival.

The three visited Yasukuni on Aug. 15 to mark the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, and also attended its spring festival in April.

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