Abe won't visit Yasukuni Shrine on war anniversary: sources

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided not to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary Thursday of Japan's surrender in World War II, sources close to him said Wednesday, apparently out of concern that his visit would further worsen ties with China and South Korea.

Abe will instead make a ritual offering of a sacred tree branch to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo, paying out of his own pocket as the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party -- not as prime minister -- in a gesture that also seems to take into his consideration conservative supporters.

Yasukuni enshrines convicted Class-A war criminals along with the nation's war dead. Past visits by prime ministers and lawmakers to the shrine, seen as a symbol of Japanese past militarism, have sparked outcries most notably in China and South Korea, which both suffered from Japanese wartime brutality.

Abe has so far refused to comment on whether he would visit the shrine on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945, while adding he would not instruct his ministers either to visit or not to visit it.

But the premier said last week that he wants to continue to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives for the state during the war. "I haven't changed my mind," he told reporters.

Abe did not visit Yasukuni during his previous stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, an omission that he later described as "extremely regrettable."

Since taking office for the second time in December, Abe has been pursuing policies that could be taken as a shift to the right, including potential revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution to enhance its defense capabilities.

The stance has even prompted the United States, Japan's key ally, to express its desire that Abe not cause any escalation in tensions in Asia, according to Japanese government sources.