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Right-wing activists visit Yasukuni Shrine on the 77th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, in Tokyo on Aug. 15, 2022.ISSEI KATO/Reuters

A senior official in Japan’s ruling party visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Monday, the 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War Two, a move likely to anger South Korea and China.

The site, honouring 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as war dead, was visited early on Monday by Koichi Hagiuda, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy research council and a key ally of slain former prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Seen by Beijing and Seoul as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression, the central Tokyo shrine was also visited by Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.

The commemoration leaves Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on the dovish side of the conservative LDP facing a tricky balancing act - avoiding irking international neighbours and partners, while still keeping the more right-wing members of the party happy, particularly after the killing of party kingpin Abe last month.

Japan’s ties with China are particularly strained this year after it conducted unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan following the visit there by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month. During the drills several missiles fell in waters inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

A group of lawmakers that normally visit en masse on Aug 15 said last week they would not do so due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Kishida avoided paying his respects in person on the anniversary of the war’s end while he was a cabinet minister and LDP official, but has sent offerings to the two Yasukuni festivals that have taken place since he took office last October. He, as well as Emperor Naruhito, will attend a separate, secular ceremony later in the day.

Abe was the last prime minister in recent memory to visit Yasukuni while in office, in 2013 - a visit that outraged both China and South Korea and even drew a rebuke from its close ally the United States.

The United States and Japan have become staunch security allies in the decades since the war’s end, but its legacy still haunts East Asia.

Koreans, who mark the date as National Liberation Day, resent Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula, while China has bitter memories of imperial troops’ invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931-1945.

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