A staff member of the shrine walks at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai(reuters_tickers)
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Monday to mark the annual autumn festival at the shrine, which is seen in China and the two Koreas as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni have outraged Beijing and Seoul because it honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with war dead.
Abe has only visited the shrine in person once, in December 2013, since becoming premier the previous year. Keen to improve ties with China and South Korea, strained by territorial disputes, Abe has instead opted to send ritual offerings on several occasions, including on Monday, a spokeswoman for Yasukuni said.
Attention is focused on whether Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, who has been accused by China of recklessly misrepresenting wartime history, will visit or make an offering at the shrine. As of Monday morning, she had yet to do either, the spokeswoman added.
On the previous occasion for high-profile Yasukuni visits, the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's World War Two surrender, the newly appointed Inada was visiting troops in Djibouti and unable to go to the shrine.
(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by William Mallard and Simon Cameron-Moore)