TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday he would release a fresh statement on World War II this year, but would stand by previous apologies for wartime misdeeds.
The comment may help allay fears that the nationalist premier, who has equivocated on Japan's guilt for its formalised system of sex slavery, would play down a landmark 1993 statement on the subject which both China and South Korea say is vital to regional relations.
During his first news conference of the year, the premier said he would record his government's thinking on the future when he issues the statement - expected on August 15, the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender.
"During the past 70 years... Japan moved ahead as a pacifist nation and made a big contribution to peace, development and democratisation in the Asia-Pacific and the world," Abe told the conference near a Shinto shrine in Ise, central Japan.
"Over the next 80, 90 and 100 years, we have to make further contributions under the flag of proactive pacifism," he said.
"By bringing together the wisdom, I want to write a new statement on how Japan can do more for the Asia-Pacific region and the world," he added.
But Abe also said he would stick to statements by previous governments about the nation's wartime behaviour, including an official 1995 apology by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
"In general, the Abe cabinet will take over the stance of successive cabinets over historical perception, including the Murayama statement," he said.
The statement said Japan "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations", adding the premier feels "deep remorse" and offers a "heartfelt apology".
Japan's right-wingers would like the apology revoked, something that Abe was always under huge international pressure to avoid.
Abe himself has repeatedly picked at the diplomatic scab left by the institutionalised system of sex slavery that saw up to 200,000 women from Korea, China and elsewhere forced into service during the conflict.
Although he has stopped short of revoking Japan's 1993 admission and apology - known as the Kono Statement - he has made clear his distaste and undermined it with an investigation of the evidence used.
Abe also provoked the ire of China and Korea by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine - often seen as a symbol of Japan's imperialism - which commemorates Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals from World War II.