TOKYO - Japan's nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to visit Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni war shrine on Thursday morning, his office said, in a move certain to roil troubled relations with China and South Korea.
"The office is aware that the prime minister plans to visit the shrine today," said a spokesman at the Prime Minister's Office, adding that it was not a matter that was being officially announced.
The visit will come exactly one year after he took power and is expected to further inflame already-tense relations with China and South Korea, both of which are embroiled in territorial disputes with Japan.
The shrine is the believed repository of the souls of Japan's war dead, including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II, who were enshrined in the 1970s.
South Korea and China see it as a symbol of Tokyo's unrepentance and say it represents a misguided view of its warmongering past.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the government hoped Abe's visit would not further affect ties.
"I understand that a politician's visit or a minister's visit to the shrine is a matter of his or her personal belief," he told reporters.
"Regardless, I believe we must avoid letting an affair as such develop into a political or diplomatic issue."
The last incumbent Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine was Junichiro Koizumi on August 15, 2006, the anniversary of Japan's defeat in 1945.