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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 China and South Korea because it honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with war dead.
Abe has visited the shrine in person only once, in December 2013, since becoming premier the previous year. Eager 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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Yasukuni enshrined war criminals.
"We resolutely oppose this wrong move by a Japanese government dignitary," Hua told a daily news briefing in Beijing. Attention is focussed on whether Japanese 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.
Abe's offering preceded a meeting in Washington set for Wednesday between the foreign and defence ministers of the United States, Japan and South Korea, involving Inada, that is expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
Asked to comment on Abe's move and whether it was helpful in light of this meeting, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Katina Adams, said, "We continue to emphasise the importance of approaching historical-legacy issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation."
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.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Will Dunham