Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not visited Yasukuni Shrine since he came to power in September 2006 (although he visited it in April that year while he was chief Cabinet secretary). Now it has surfaced that he recently donated 50,000 yen to dedicate evergreen “sakaki” trees for the war shrine’s annual spring festival held April 21-23. The donation was made within two weeks of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Tokyo.

China’s reaction to Mr. Abe’s ceremonial offering to Yasukuni has been rather mild, while South Korea’s has been more direct. Mr. Abe’s action, although short of a visit to the shrine, will at the very least lead both countries and other neighboring countries to closely watch Mr. Abe. The last prime minister who dedicated sakaki to the shrine was Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who did so on Aug. 15, 1985.

By visiting South Korea and China immediately after becoming prime minister, Mr. Abe succeeded in improving relations with both countries, which had deteriorated due to his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to the shrine. When Mr. Wen, during his Tokyo visit, asked Mr. Abe in a circuitous way not to visit Yasukuni, Mr. Abe replied that “it is my desire that Japan will walk as a peace-loving nation and this is my historical perception.” His latest move could cast a cloud over his word.

Reacting to Mr. Abe’s sakaki dedication, China said “Yasukuni Shrine is an important and sensitive political issue in China-Japan relations.” South Korea said it is regrettable that the Japanese prime minister sent an offering to the shrine, “which glorifies the past war of aggression and honors war criminals.”

Mr. Abe explained his act: “I want to keep on showing respect for those who fought for the country and died, and praying for their souls.” He may be sincere. But his statement suggests forgetfulness about the enormous sufferings that Japan’s war in the 1930s and ’40s brought to people of other Asian nations. It also hides the ideological role that Yasukuni Shrine played in mobilizing the Japanese for a war of aggression in the region.

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