TOKYO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, seen in much of Asia as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, on the emotive August 15 anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War Two to avoid upsetting China and South Korea, Japanese media reported on Thursday.
Abe, who cemented his grip on power in an upper house election on Sunday, has taken a tough stance with China in a territorial row over tiny islands. But he has also said that his door is open to dialogue with Beijing and has sought to mend ties with Seoul.
“The prime minister will make a wise decision (about the shrine visit). It would be a different story if (his government) had a short future ahead, but he has three years,” one source close to Abe was quoted as saying by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
“The time will come for him to fulfill his will.”
Another government source was quoted as telling the daily: “August is not the time for a visit.”
Whether Abe will visit the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are among those honored, is seen as a key to gauge how he intends to proceed on the touchy topic of wartime history.
A pilgrimage to the shrine would outrage China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan’s past militarism run deep, and upset Washington, which fears a further fraying of Tokyo’s already fraught relations with its neighbors.
Beijing is already on edge about the hawkish Abe’s plans to bolster the military and loosen the constraints of the country’s pacifist constitution. Tokyo is likely to start considering acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes in a planned update of its defense policy, though in a sign of the sensitivity, it may tone down the phrasing.
Abe, who wants to recast Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone, steered clear of a visit to the shrine during his first 2006-2007 term but later said he deeply regretted it.
While Abe moved quickly to improve ties with China and South Korea at the start of his first term, it is unclear whether he will repeat that success in his second.
Abe visited the shrine during its autumn festival in October last year, shortly before taking office again as premier in December after his ruling party’s win in a general election.
Tensions flared between Japan and its Asian neighbors earlier this year when Abe made an offering to the shrine, and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and two other ministers visited Yasukuni during its spring festival.
Analysts have said Abe might pay homage at the shrine during this year’s autumn festival, even if he avoids a summer visit in the summer.
Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Linda Sieg and Stephen Coates