Abe skips Yasukuni over China, South Korea ties

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apparently decided not to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Friday to mark the end of World War II out of consideration for China and South Korea, in the hope the gesture would help bring about meetings with the two nations' leaders.

Ties seem unlikely to improve, however, as China and South Korea have criticized the Friday visits paid to the shrine by three Cabinet members and numerous lawmakers. Summit meetings between Japan and China and South Korea have not occurred since the launch of the second Abe Cabinet in December 2012.

Liberal Democratic Party member Koichi Hagiuda, a special adviser to Abe, visited the Prime Minister's Residence on Friday morning to report on his delivery of a monetary offering to the shrine on Abe's behalf. Abe thanked him for his efforts.

The prime minister returned to his summer vacation Friday afternoon, heading to his vacation home in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Reporters asked Abe about Yasukuni Shrine, but he made no response. A person close to Abe said the prime minister wanted to make it clear he has no intention of making Yasukuni into a diplomatic issue.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, New Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi said, "I think the prime minister elected not to visit [Yasukuni] because he is fully aware that shrine visits are linked to diplomatic problems."

There have been signs of a thaw recently in Japan's chilly relations with China and South Korea.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held separate meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on Aug. 9 on the sidelines of talks among foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Kishida exchanged views with his counterparts on longstanding issues between the nations. The ministers may meet again when the UN General Assembly convenes in September.

The government hopes such talks will pave the way for meetings between Abe and the leaders of China and South Korea during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum conference in Beijing in November.

"I hope China and South Korea will understand what it meant for Abe not to visit Yasukuni, given his strong feelings for the shrine," a top government official said.