Japan PM Abe sends offering to war shrine

Previous visits to the shrine have sparked fury in China and South Korea

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday sent a ritual offering to a controversial war shrine which China and South Korea see as a symbol of Tokyo's past aggression.

The conservative premier -- who has been criticised for what some see as a revisionist attitude to Japan's wartime record -- sent a sacred "masakaki" tree bearing his name to the Yasukuni Shrine as it starts a four-day festival.

No prominent political figures were seen at the shrine Tuesday.

Abe is expected to avoid visiting the site during the festival, according to media in Japan, which is in the middle of campaigning for a snap election on Sunday.

Tokyo is also seeking warmer ties with Beijing and Seoul amid global concern over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

The shrine honours millions of Japanese war dead, but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes after World War II.

The site has for decades been a flashpoint for criticism by countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including China and Korea.

"China's position on the issue of the Yasukuni Shrine is consistent and clear-cut," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing.

"We urge the Japanese to faithfully face up to and deeply reflect upon the history of aggression, properly handle the relevant issue and win the trust of its Asian neighbours and the international community with concrete actions."

Abe and other nationalists say Yasukuni is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers and compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.

Abe visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a move that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States, which said it was "disappointed" by the action.

But he has since refrained from going and sent ritual offerings instead.