Abe won't visit Yasukuni on anniv. amid neighboring countries' concern

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, sources close to the matter said Thursday, in a move that could help ease tensions with China and South Korea.

The Shinto shrine honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with millions of Japan's war dead. China and South Korea view Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan's past militarism and have criticized previous visits to the shrine by prime ministers and lawmakers.

Abe, who indicated he would visit the shrine after he took office for the second time in December, has apparently taken note of the United States' desire to avoid further tension and instability in the region, the government and ruling party sources said.

Abe did not visit Yasukuni during his previous stint as prime minister for a year through September 2007, an omission that he later described as "extremely regrettable."

Some members of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party are hoping the prime minister will visit the shrine during its autumn festival in October instead.

After strengthening his grip on power with victory in the upper house election late last month, Abe is trying to ease tensions with China and South Korea over territorial disputes as well as perceptions of history.

"I hope there is discussion without reserve between national leaders and between foreign ministers," Abe said in a speech delivered July 26 in Singapore, suggesting his intention to mend ties with China and South Korea.

Although Abe will not visit Yasukuni on Aug. 15, some Cabinet members are likely to go as the prime minister has said it is up to them to decide.

During the shrine's spring festival in April, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and some other ministers visited Yasukuni, triggering criticism from China and South Korea.