Shrine visit could inflame tensions between Japan, China
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe leaves the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Wednesday.
- The Yasukuni Shrine houses Japanese soldiers and war criminals
- China, as well as North and South Korea, say the shrine is a sign of Japan's imperial past
- China says Japan is trying to undermine its sovereignty
- China and Japan claim sovereignty over uninhabited East China Sea islands
(CNN) -- The head of Japan's major opposition party and favorite to become the nation's next prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited a controversial shrine Wednesday in a move likely to ratchet up already heightened tensions with China.
The visit comes as the nations are locked in a dispute over a remote island chain in the East China Sea.
The story behind the islands dispute
In recent weeks, the Chinese navy has been flexing its muscles in the region, sending warships to the waters near the islands. Seven were seen in the area Wednesday, according to Japan's Defense Ministry.
Past visits by Japanese prime ministers and other political leaders to Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 of Japan's Class-A war criminals are enshrined with thousands of Japanese soldiers, have ignited a firestorm of controversy with China as well as North Korea and South Korea.
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The shrine is regarded by the nations as a symbol of Japan's imperial military past. All three countries suffered under Japan's military aggression in World War II.
Responding to a question about the visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday that Japan should abide by its promises and handle controversial issues responsibly, the state-run Xinhua news service reported.
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In September, the Japanese government bought the disputed islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China and Taiwan -- from the Japanese family that owned them for 2.05 billion yen (U.S. $26.2 million).
China says its claim to the islands goes back hundreds of years and feels Japan is trying to undermine its sovereignty.
Japan says it saw no trace of Chinese control of the islands in an 1885 survey, so it formally recognized them as Japanese sovereign territory in 1895.
Japan then sold the islands in 1932 to descendants of the original settlers. The Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945 only served to cloud the issue further.
The islands were administered by the U.S. occupation force after the war. But in 1972, Washington returned them to Japan as part of its withdrawal from Okinawa.
Abe, a former prime minister, is the head of the opposition Liberal Democrats, who are expected to win a majority of seats in the next elections. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has promised to hold elections "soon."
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Asia's disputed islands
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 0412 GMT (1212 HKT)
Two U.S. military aircraft flew into China's newly claimed and challenged air defense zone over the East China Sea, a U.S. official said, an action that could inflame tensions between the world powers.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 0715 GMT (1515 HKT)
Tensions magnified among the world's top three economies over China's controversial new air defense zone.
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November 27, 2013 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
CNN's David McKenzie reports from Beijing on why the Chinese claim sovereignty over an area in the East China Sea.
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
Surprise, surprise, Japan and China are still not getting along, writes Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Japan.
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
Japan is using YouTube to bolster assertions of ownership over islands also claimed by neighboring China and South Korea.
August 6, 2013 -- Updated 0100 GMT (0900 HKT)
In "Glorious Mission Online," China's first online game co-developed by the People's Liberation Army and released to the public, players join the ranks of the country's military to take on the enemy.
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
The fragile relationship between China and Japan came under fresh strain Tuesday as ships from both sides crowded into the waters around a disputed group of islands and nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers visited a controversial war memorial.
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Sightseeing cruises to China's newest city, Sansha, located on a disputed island in the South China Sea, are set to commence this month, a Chinese official said.
America's power and purpose are in jeopardy if the world's three largest economies cannot step back from the brink, writes Patrick Cronin.
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 0854 GMT (1654 HKT)
China uses perceived provocations as a chance to change the status-quo in its favor, writes Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt.
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