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Abe sends ritual offering to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine

This photo shows a "masakaki" tree offering Japanese PM Shinzo Abe made under the name of the prime minister for the spring festival at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering Sunday to Yasukuni Shrine, regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by its Asian neighbors.

    The offering was made on the occasion of a three-day spring festival through Tuesday at the Shinto shrine in Tokyo.

    But Abe, who has a strong conservative support base, is expected to refrain from visiting the shrine amid improving Japan-China ties that have been frayed over issues linked to history and territory.

    However, historical issues continue to cast a pall over Japan's relations with South Korea. In recent months, most notably, the two countries have been at loggerheads over the issue of compensation for South Korean wartime laborers.

    On Sunday, Abe made a "masakaki" tree offering under the name of the prime minister for the spring festival at the shrine, which honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead. The tree is used in Shinto-style rituals.

    Abe regularly sends ritual offerings to the shrine during its spring and autumn festivals. He gives donations on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in the war.

    But Abe has not visited the shrine since 2013.

    This year's spring festival comes as Japan is making preparations for the first visit in June by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is expected to attend a Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

    Yasukuni Shrine is often a source of diplomatic friction. Past visits by Japanese leaders and lawmakers infuriated China and South Korea which suffered under Japan's wartime aggression.

    The South Korean top court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate for what South Korean plaintiffs say was forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korea Peninsula.

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