TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent his strongest signal yet that he won't repeat previous war apologies in a planned statement in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a move that risks riling some Asian neighbours.
"I uphold the basic thinking behind past war apologies, which means there isn't a need to reiterate them," Abe said on a BS-Fuji television show on Monday in response to a question whether he'd include terms such as "aggression" or "colonial rule" in the statement.
Failure to include such terms of atonement on a key anniversary would risk irritating China and South Korea, where widespread bitterness over Japan's past militarism has soured relations.
Abe's comments come days before he is due to deliver a speech on Japan's postwar contribution at conference in Indonesia attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping. He then travels to the US where he will address a joint-session of Congress and discuss Japan's postwar legacy.
"It will be my own thoughts as Prime Minister about Japan's past, remorse for the war, and our path as a peaceful country based on that remorse after the war," Abe said.
In a 1995 statement, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama 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." Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used similar phrasing in his own statement a decade later.
Japan occupied Korea for 35 years before its defeat at the end of World War II, a conflict that killed over 30 million people in Asia including more than 20 million Chinese. China and South Korea accuse Abe of playing down Japan's responsibility for the conflict and for atrocities committed by the Imperial Army such as the killing of Chinese civilians after the capture of Nanking and the use of women as sex slaves for the troops.