Japanese government says PM Abe will not apologise at Pearl Harbour during visit

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo, on Dec 5, 2016.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo, on Dec 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will honour war dead, but will not apologise when he becomes the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbour this month, a top government spokesman said on Tuesday (Dec 6).

The move follows Mr Barack Obama's historic May trip to Hiroshima, the first by a sitting US president, where he spoke of victims' suffering, but offered no apology for dropping the world's first nuclear bomb.

Mr Abe will pay his respects to those who died in Japan's surprise 1941 attack at the US naval base in Hawaii, which triggered World War II in the Pacific, and highlight a decades-old security alliance between the former enemies.

"The purpose of this visit is to commemorate war dead, not to apologise," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular press briefing in Tokyo.

"The visit will serve as an opportunity to demonstrate to future generations our resolve not to repeat the horror and suffering of war as well as an opportunity to showcase the reconciliation between Japan and the United States," he added.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the deadly Dec 7, 1941 assault on the US naval base.

The war ended in August 1945 after the US dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan and, although the countries have forged strong ties in the seven decades since, how the war began and concluded has cast a long shadow.

Mr Abe - a nationalist who has been criticised for playing down his country's wartime record - will be in Hawaii on Dec 26 and 27 for talks with Mr Obama, who will join him at Pearl Harbour.

In Hiroshima, Mr Obama and Mr Abe went to an atomic bomb memorial - a visit that sparked speculation that Mr Abe might go to Pearl Harbour in return.

The US leader laid a floral wreath and reiterated his call for the abolition of nuclear weapons but did not apologise for the attack and a subsequent bombing of Nagasaki that ended the war.

Mr Abe's visit to Pearl Harbour also comes as Japan prepares to build a new relationship with Mr Donald Trump, who will take over from Mr Obama next month.

Mr Trump sent shockwaves through Japan earlier this year when he appeared to call into question the two countries' security alliance, prompting Mr Abe to become the first world leader to meet him after the election to confirm the relationship.