TOKYO Japanese internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Friday, a move likely to anger Asian victims of Japan's past aggression.
The visit came a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his third ritual offering to the shrine since returning to office in December. Abe has not visited the shrine in person to avoid further straining ties with China and South Korea.
Shindo's visit came after China's Foreign Ministry admonished Abe on Thursday, telling him not to go there in person out of respect for China and "other victimized countries".
Similar rebukes can be expected after Shindo's visit, with other lawmakers also expected to pay their respects during the shrine's autumn festival, which ends on Sunday.
"I visited the shrine in a private capacity," Shindo said, noting that his grandfather is honored there. "I do not think this will become a diplomatic issue."
As well as Japan's war dead, Yasukuni also honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
Sino-Japanese ties have been overshadowed for years by what China says has been Japan's refusal to admit to atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China between 1931 and 1945.
Memories of a brutal Japanese occupation also remain strong in South Korea, where the Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern and regret" that Abe had made his ritual offering.
Ties with China have been fraught for months because of a territorial dispute over islets in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Japan's relations with South Korea have also cooled over a separate territorial dispute.
Shindo, who visited Yasukuni on August 15, the anniversary of the end of World War Two, is one of two cabinet ministers who are considering visiting the shrine during the autumn festival.
Abe is seen as a hawkish nationalist with a conservative agenda that includes revising the post-war pacifist constitution, strengthening Japan's defense posture and recasting wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
He has said he regretted not visiting the shrine when he was prime minister in 2006-2007.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Paul Tait)