Abe unlikely to visit Yasukuni on anniversary of end of WWII

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay tribute to Japan's war dead Thursday as the country marks the 68th anniversary of its surrender in World War II, but he is expected to refrain from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo as part of efforts to mend soured ties with China and South Korea.

Abe is scheduled to visit the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in the morning, where he will lay flowers for the unknown Japanese who died overseas during the war, government officials said.

Yasukuni, which enshrines convicted Class-A war criminals along with the country's war dead, is seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism and previous visits to the shrine by Japanese political leaders have strained relations.

Abe will not visit the shrine on the anniversary, sources close to him have said, out of concern that it would further deteriorate ties with Japan's regional partners, already strained by territorial rows as well as disagreements over perceptions of history.

Abe will instead make a ritual offering to the shrine, the sources added, in an apparent gesture to his conservative supporters. But that is likely to trigger criticism from Beijing and Seoul.

Japan's apparent shift to the right under the leadership of Abe, who is pushing to revise the pacifist Constitution to enhance the country's defense capabilities, has unnerved its neighbors.

The deterioration in relations with China and South Korea has even prompted the United States, Japan's key ally, to express its desire for Abe to de-escalate the regional tension, according to Japanese government officials.