TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made his third ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, but again he did not visit in person to avoid angering Asian victims of Japan's war-time aggression.
Visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine in Tokyo have outraged China and South Korea, which suffered under Japanese occupation before and during World War Two, because war-time leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured there along with Japan's war dead.
Abe made the offering in the name of the prime minister to mark the shrine's autumn festival, which runs from Thursday until Sunday, a shrine official told Reuters. The official said the offering was made before Thursday, but gave no details.
A deputy government spokesman said Abe made the offering in his private capacity and that the government was in no position to comment.
"I believe it's natural to express homage to those who fought and sacrificed their precious lives for the sake of their country, and to pray for the repose of their souls," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, speaking at a regular briefing in Beijing, admonished Abe not to visit the shrine.
"We again ask Japan to seriously contemplate its history of aggression, and to sincerely respect the feelings of China and other victimized countries," Hua said.
Bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep in China and South Korea.
Sino-Japanese ties have been overshadowed for years by what China says has been Japan's refusal to admit to atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China between 1931 and 1945.
Memories of a brutal Japanese occupation also run deep in South Korea where the Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern and regret" that Abe made the offering.
Abe, who returned to office after a December election win, is seen as a hawkish nationalist with a conservative agenda that includes revising a post-war pacifist constitution, strengthening defence posture and recasting wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
But despite that, and despite saying he regretted not visiting the shrine when he was prime minister in 2006-2007, Abe has refrained from visiting the shrine in person since becoming premier for a second time.
He made his previous offering in August.
Sino-Japanese ties have been troubled for months because of a sovereignty dispute over tiny islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Japan's relations with South Korea have also cooled over a separate territorial dispute.
Two ministers from Abe's cabinet are considering visiting the shrine during the autumn festival, Kyodo news agency reported.