A Shinto priest welcomes Japanese lawmakers as they visit the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, Japan April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter(reuters_tickers)
TOKYO (Reuters) - A group of Japanese lawmakers on Friday visited a Tokyo shrine seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism to pay respects to the country's war dead, a step that could strain ties with its Asian neighbours China and South Korea, Kyodo news agency reported.
The visit comes a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni shrine, where 14 war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal are among those honoured, to mark its annual spring festival, and ahead of an expected visit by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to China.
Kishida will likely meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on April 30 to try to ease friction over issues such as sovereignty disputes in the East China Sea and China's assertive moves in the South China Sea, Japanese media have said.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea have long been plagued with territorial disputes, regional rivalry and what Seoul and Beijing see as Japanese leaders' reluctance to atone fully for the country's wartime past.
China and South Korea suffered under Japan's sometimes brutal occupation and colonial rule before Tokyo's defeat in 1945.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka: Editing by Michael Perry)