Tokyo - 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 adviser 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 its Asian neighbors to low ebb in recent years, and Abe has not said if he will make a visit as prime minister.
The shrine, which honours Japanese World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied Tribunal alongside millions of war dead, is seen in many Asian countries as a symbol of Japan's military aggression before and during the war.
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.
Abe has been trying to mend ties, visiting Beijing last October for a leaders' summit less than two weeks after taking office.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao followed up with a visit to Japan last week, marking the first visit by a Chinese premier to Japan since 2000.
In an interview with Japanese media before the visit, Wen urged Abe to stay away from the shrine. Kyodo also quoted a senior Japanese foreign ministry official as saying that if Abe visited Yasukuni, it could threaten Abe's leadership.
Support for Abe edged up in an opinion poll by Kyodo conducted after Wen's visit to Japan.
Abe sparked international outrage in March after he said there was no evidence that Japan's government or army had kidnapped women, mostly Asian and many Korean, to work in brothels to serve Japanese soldiers during World War Two.
But he has repeated that he endorses a 1993 apology to the "comfort women", as they are known in Japan, and has expressed sympathy for the women.
On Friday, the Japanese government issued a statement in response to a question by an opposition lawmaker saying it had no objection to a war crimes tribunal after the war that found the Japanese government had forced the women to work in the brothels.
A group of lawmakers led by former agriculture minister Yoshinobu Shimamura plans to visit Yasukuni shrine on Monday, the last day of the shrine's three-day spring festival.