South Korea, China warn Japan not to backtrack on apology over WWII past

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims at the Hall of Names on Jan 19, 2015 during their visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis d
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims at the Hall of Names on Jan 19, 2015 during their visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and China warned Japan on Tuesday not to backtrack on its apology issued 20 years ago over its wartime past when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

Japan's ties with South Korea and China have worsened sharply as Abe has adopted a conservative agenda, including a less apologetic tone toward the wartime past and bolstering Japan's defences.

Abe has said he intends to express remorse over the war in his statement and his cabinet upholds past apologies, including the landmark 1995 remarks by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama but suggested he was not going to stick with the original wording.

"I would like to issue a statement with the focus not on whether the same terms will be used but on the Abe government's thought on the occasion," Abe said on public broadcaster NHK at the weekend.

The anniversary of Japan's defeat falls on Aug 15, but no date has been set for the release of the Abe statement.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang Il has already accused Japan of trying to "undermine" a separate 1993 apology to Asian women it forced to work as wartime sex slaves in Japanese brothels by conducting a review of it last year.

The Japanese government must remember "the historic significance of every single passage" used in past apologies by former premiers, Noh told a news briefing on Tuesday. "It should reflect carefully, looking squarely at history how the international community and neighbouring countries will react if it takes key parts out from statements by Murayama on the 50th anniversary and (Junichiro) Koizumi on the 60th."

Koizumi issued a similar statement in 2005.

Noh added Japan should take lessons from the consistent position of remorse and responsibility taken by German leaders about the Nazi past.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday Beijing was concerned about "what type of attitude the Japanese government and leaders adopt with respect to the past period of aggression and the type of information it sends out to the outside world".

"Will it play down the history of aggression and continue to carry that negative asset? Or will it show profound and sincere remorse over its history of invasions and travel lightly forward? The international community waits and sees," she told a media briefing in Beijing.

Abe has questioned the 1993 statement in the past and in what many saw as a nod to his conservative base, asked a panel of experts to review it. However, mindful of the potential diplomatic fallout, he has said he would not revise it.