Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ministers will not say whether they will visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the top government spokesman said Thursday, as an annual memorial day at the shrine is approaching.
"The basic position of the Abe Cabinet is that we will not comment on whether we will make a visit," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, leaving neighboring countries sensitive to the issue guessing whether Abe will visit the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the nation's surrender in World War II.
Yasukuni honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with Japan's war dead. China and South Korea, which suffered in the past at the hands of the Japanese military, in particular have warned that visits by prime ministers can damage bilateral relations.
The warning comes as their relations with Japan have again come under strain over the perceived shift to the right in Japanese politics under Abe's leadership, as well as their territorial disputes with Japan.
With the victory of Abe's ruling bloc in Sunday's upper house election, which gave him full control of parliament, the premier is likely to accelerate his drive toward his policy goals, which may include efforts to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution to enable the country to play a bigger role in Asian security.
But there is also speculation that Abe could move to repair ties with Japan's neighbors by refraining from visiting Yasukuni for next month's memorial.
The ruling Liberal Democratic party's coalition partner, the New Komeito party, has urged Abe to show restraint.
On Monday, New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters, "I believe the prime minister will make a sensible response and I want to ask him to take such a position."