• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will probably not visit war-linked Yasukuni Shrine during the spring festival in late April to avoid marring the upcoming summit with U.S. President Barack Obama, sources close to him said Thursday.

Instead of visiting the controversial Shinto facility during its Annual Spring Festival from April 21 to 23, Abe is expected to send over a “masakaki” tree offering as he did last spring, the sources said.

Abe last visited the Tokyo shrine on Dec. 26, the first anniversary of his taking office, angering Beijing and Seoul, which view it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarist aggression. In a rare response, Washington — Tokyo’s closest ally — said it was “disappointed” by Abe’s visit.

The masakaki would signify that Abe is trying not to worsen relations with Beijing and Seoul any further, while throwing a bone to his conservative support base, which pressures him to visit, according to the sources.

Abe and Obama are scheduled to hold summit talks on April 24, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and Japan-U.S. security alliance likely to top the agenda. After the state visit, Obama will travel to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Visits to the shrine by Japanese politicians regularly anger China, South Korea and other victims of Japan’s brutality in the region because it honors Class-A war criminals along with 2.4 million war dead. Emperor Hirohito stopped going there for precisely that reason after the top war criminals were secretly enshrined in 1978, and no emperor has visited since.

Typically, the government leaves it up to each Cabinet minister on whether to visit Yasukuni, but the resulting controversies often focus on whether the person is making an official visit or a personal one.

Abe has said his December visit was meant to make a pledge that Japan “must not wage a war again” based on “severe remorse for the past,” but has not been successful in getting that message across to Japan’s other Asian neighbors.

During his first term in office between 2006 and 2007, Abe did not go to the shrine and said afterward the decision was “extremely regrettable.”

Since taking office for the second time in December 2012, Abe has not held official one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping or South Korean President Park Geun Hye amid disagreements over territory and perceptions of history.

In late March, Washington brokered a trilateral meeting with Tokyo and Seoul on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, but they apparently shunned thorny issues.

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