Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to visit a controversial war shrine during a festival in late April as he wants to continue to improve ties with China, Kyodo news agency said quoting aides.
Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine last April around the time of the spring festival when he was chief Cabinet secretary, a close advisor has said, although Abe himself has neither confirmed nor denied this.
Before becoming cabinet minister, Abe made visits to Yasukuni publicly.
Annual visits to the shrine by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, drew Japan's relations with China to their lowest ebb in decades, and Abe has not said if he will make a visit as prime minister.
The shrine honors Japanese World War II leaders convicted as war criminals alongside millions of war dead.
In a report late on Thursday, Kyodo quoted one of Abe's close aides as dismissing the possibility of a visit to the shrine before an election for parliament's upper house in July, citing improving relations with China.
Later on Friday, Abe refused to say whether he would visit the shrine. "As I have repeatedly said, I still uphold the desire to pray for the souls of those who sacrificed themselves for the country," Abe told reporters.
"But for as long as this is a diplomatic and political issue, I don't think it's appropriate for me to say whether or not I will go there."
(China Daily via agencies April 21, 2007)