Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected today to make a ritual offering to the Yasukuni shrine instead of actually visiting the monument in an attempt to appease China while satisfying his conservative base.
But Chinese analysts said the move would do nothing to improve Sino-Japanese ties and would instead anger Beijing.
An offering today, the emotive anniversary of Japan's defeat in the second world war, would highlight the fine line Abe seeks to tread. The offering would be made through a representative of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japanese media said.
A similar move in April only infuriated China and South Korea, both victims of Japanese wartime aggression.
"Abe's ritual offering through a representative of his Liberal Democratic Party instead of paying a personal visit does not make anything different in terms of displaying his attitude toward the history of Japan's former militarism. Rather, Chinese people, as well as the Chinese government will see such an act as a display of 'no remorse' attitude over wartime history," said Liu Jiangyong , a Japanese affairs expert with Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies.
The Yasukuni shrine commemorates Japan's war dead, including 14 people convicted of being class-A war criminals by an Allied tribunal. Also enshrined are foreign troops who died fighting Japan, but Yasukuni is typically seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's former militarism, and visits there by Japan's leaders are considered controversial.
Neither the prime minister's office nor LDP headquarters could confirm the media reports.
At least two cabinet members and a ruling party executive are likely to visit the shrine in central Tokyo, prompting China's Foreign Ministry to say last week that visits by Japanese political leaders were unacceptable in any form. A group of conservative lawmakers is also expected to pay their respects.
Liu said that because China's government was increasingly concerned about domestic public opinion, Abe's possible tribute would not improve ties.
Wang Xinsheng , a Sino-Japanese affairs expert with Peking University, said he feared that a tribute by Abe would anger the Chinese government and make diplomatic overtures more difficult in the near future.
Liu and Wang both said a Yasukuni tribute by Abe would make a summit with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang less likely.
"It is naïve of some Japanese politicians to think that Abe's staying away would help pave the way for a summit that Abe himself has been seeking recently," Wang said from Tokyo, where he is on an academic exchange. "It becomes more difficult than ever to build mutual understanding and trust between the two governments."
Relations between Japan and China have been strained for months, largely because of a dispute over a group of uninhabited islands that worsened in September when Japan bought several of the islands from a private owner.
Ships and aircraft have for months played a cat-and-mouse game near the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China, ratcheting up tensions, with Chinese ships venturing in and out of what Japan considers its territorial waters.