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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 05:31 GMT 06:31 UK
Japan PM sent war shrine offering
Yasukuni shrine (archive picture)
China says the shrine glorifies Japan's militaristic past
Japan's PM Shinzo Abe has sent an offering to a controversial shrine, but in an apparent compromise to regional neighbours did not actually go himself.

The offering is thought to be Mr Abe's first show of respect at the Yasukuni Shrine since he took office last year.

Yasukuni is seen by Japan's neighbours as a symbol of the country's past militarism, and previous PM Junichiro Koizumi's visits soured regional ties.

Since taking over, Mr Abe has been trying to rebuild these relationships.

His decision to make an offering rather than going in person is being seen as an attempt to appease his conservative supporters, who favour shrine pilgrimages, without provoking anger abroad.

Troubled past

Mr Abe offered a potted masakaki tree, accompanied by a card that read "the prime minister", to mark Yasukuni's spring festival on 21-23 April, a spokeswoman for the shrine said.

Government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki admitted he had heard about the offering, but said the government would "refrain from commenting on a matter that involves the thoughts and feelings of the prime minister as a private citizen."

Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters he thought the offering would have little impact on Sino-Japanese ties.

"I don't think it really matters," he said.

Annual visits to the shrine by Mr Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, made a serious dent in relations between Japan and its neighbours, chiefly China and South Korea.

Controversy over Yasukuni centres on the fact that 14 Japanese war criminals are venerated at the shrine, alongside other World War II dead.

In the past Mr Abe, like other strong nationalists, regularly prayed at Yasukuni.

He also reportedly made a secret trip as Chief Cabinet Secretary last year.

But he has not made a visit since becoming prime minister last September, and has declined to say whether he will in the future.

Instead he has concentrated on seeking to improve ties with China.

He visited Beijing in October and welcomed his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao to Tokyo last month - the first trip by a Chinese leader to Japan since 2000.


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