TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Monday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was acting in a private capacity when he sent a ritual offering to a shrine for war dead, seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by many in Asia, but China said he was wrong to do so.
Abe on Saturday sent a "masakaki" ceremonial tree to mark the annual autumn festival at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are enshrined along with the war dead.
"I am aware of media reports that Prime Minister Abe sent masakaki, but the action was done as an private individual, so I don’t think it’s something the government should comment on," Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said. "I think it's a globally common act to give prayers to those who gave their lives for their country."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying noted the shrine also honours war criminals. Fourteen Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after World War Two are also enshrined at Yasukuni.
"China has consistently resolutely opposed these mistaken acts by important Japanese politicians. We urge Japan to face up to and deeply reflect on the history of militarism," Hua told a daily news briefing.
Abe's offering came as China and South Korea, where memories of Japanese occupation and colonialism before and during World War Two persist, are arranging a trilateral summit with Japan, the first leaders' meeting since May 2012.
Japanese media said the talks would be on Nov. 1 in Seoul.
A December 2013 visit by Abe to Yasukuni angered China and South Korea. Recently both Beijing and Seoul have signaled a desire for improved relations with their neighbor.
Last week, Japanese media said Abe invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Japan around spring next year, via a letter delivered by the head of the junior party in Japan's ruling coalition.
Sino-Japanese ties, plagued by their wartime past, concerns over Tokyo's bolder security stance, a maritime territorial dispute and Beijing's increasing military assertiveness, have thawed a little in the last year.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Nick Macfie