New Komeito chief hopeful Abe will pass up Yasukuni visit again

New Komeito party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi expressed optimism Friday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine during its annual autumn festival in October in view of strained ties with some Asian neighbors.

At a television recording with Asahi Satellite Broadcasting Ltd., Yamaguchi pointed to Abe's decision earlier in August not to visit the shrine in Tokyo for the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, saying "various relations are showing signs of conciliation" as a result.

The Shinto shrine is seen by some of Japan's neighbors as a symbol of its past militarism. China and South Korea have strongly criticized visits by Japanese government officials to Yasukuni, where Class-A war criminals are enshrined along with Japan's war dead.

"I'm confident the prime minister will seize this opportunity in dealing with the situation," added Yamaguchi, who heads the junior coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

In regards to the possibility of a summit meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yamaguchi said, "I'm not overly hopeful that it will happen soon, but we must take any opportunities and work to mend ties" with China.

A formal summit has yet to take place between the two leaders as bilateral relations have soured over a territorial row in the East China Sea.