Japan's Abe defends visit to controversial shrine

McClatchy Washington BureauApril 24, 2014 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his visit to a controversial shrine that honors Japan's war dead, saying Thursday that he did so to pay respects to the war dead and to prevent future wars.

Abe in December became the first Japanese prime minister since 2006 to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, inflaming tensions with Japan's neighbors, including China and South Korea who see the shrine -- which includes 14 Class A war criminals from World War II -- as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

But Abe said he visited the Tokyo shrine "so that never again people will suffer in wars.

"I have renewed my resolve to create such a society and such a world," Abe told reporters at a joint press conference with President Barack Obama.

Abe said he would try to better explain the visit to Japan’s neighbors to explain his reasoning.

"In the Abe government there is no change in stance compared to previous administration's," he said in an apparent reference to worries that his revisionist tendencies would look to revise Japan's war history.

Abe earlier this week made a ritual offering to the shrine – a half measure that was viewed by his critics as an attempt to assuage domestic conservatives in Japan without further inflaming the Obama administration, which criticized Abe’s December visit.

His actions have complicated efforts to present a united front to counter Chinese and North Korean aggression, but analysts said Obama wasn't likely to bring up the issue in public.

“It’s best done in private. It’s hard to do in public without stepping all over yourself,” said Douglas Paal, vice president for studies and director of the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Obama didn't bring up the issue publicly; reporters asked Abe at the press conference.

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