Japanese PM Abe sends ritual offering to Yasukuni shrine for war dead

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, seen in China and the two Koreas as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, to mark its annual autumn festival, the shrine said on Tuesday.

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Abe was expected to refrain from visiting the shrine during the festival, which will last until Friday, the Nikkei business daily and Kyodo news agency reported.

He is scheduled to visit northern Japan, Akita prefecture and Yamagata prefecture, for an election campaign stump on Tuesday, Kyodo news said.

His ruling coalition is on track for a big win in Sunday’s general election - even though almost half the country’s voters don’t want him to keep his job, a media survey showed on Monday.

Abe’s snap election comes amid heightened global tension following North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, which prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose fresh sanctions.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato also sent an ritual offering to the shrine, a spokesperson for the shrine said.

Past visits to Yasukuni by Japanese leaders have outraged Beijing and Seoul because it honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with Japan’s war dead.

China’s position on the shrine was clear, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing.

“We urge the Japanese side to earnestly, squarely and deeply reflect on their history of aggression, appropriately handle the relevant issue and take actual steps to win the trust of their Asian neighbors and the international community,” Lu said.

Abe has only visited the shrine in person once, in December 2013, since becoming premier the previous year.

Rather than attend in person, Abe sends a ritual offering on several occasions in an effort to improve ties with China and South Korea, which have been strained by territorial and other disputes.

Japan, China and South Korea are trying to hold a summit meeting this year, the Nikkei business said.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry