No backtracking on WWII apologies: Japan

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan does not intend to backtrack on its position on World War II, the government said on Wednesday, as tensions simmer with neighbours over fears of revisionism by Tokyo.

"We share the same recognition with the past cabinets that (Japan) caused tremendous damage and suffering to people in Asia," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee.

The comments came after South Korean President Park Geun Hye told a US newspaper that Japan had been re-opening old wounds and needed to reflect on history.

Japan's uneasy relationship with South Korea and China, both of which suffered during the imperial army's expansionism last century, has worsened in the last year due to a flaring of separate territorial spats.

It has been further affected by nationalist rumblings from the right-of-centre government, including pre-election hints that Mr Abe could review apologies Tokyo has made for its past war-making.

However, the administration insisted on Tuesday there would be no rowing back.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said there was no plan to change a 1995 statement which said that Japan "regards with humility these facts of history and expresses deep remorse and heartfelt apology".

"Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe has the same recognition," Mr Kishida said.

The landmark pronouncement by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama was seen as a vital step in what many Asian nations said was Japan finally starting to come to terms with its brutal history.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said on Tuesday there was no plan to change a 1993 apology for the sexual enslavement of so-called "comfort women" during World War II, a key irritant in relations with Seoul.

Ms Park said in an interview with the Washington Post that "the Japanese have been opening past wounds and have been letting them fester, and this applies not only to Korea but also to other neighbouring countries.

"This arrests our ability to really build momentum, so I hope that Japan reflects upon itself," Mr Park said, stressing the need for regional cooperation to address crises related to North Korea and the importance of avoiding "tensions among Japan, China and other countries in the region".

A recent mass visit by Japanese lawmakers to a controversial war shrine that honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals, angered Seoul and Beijing.

South Korea shelved a proposed trip by Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se to Tokyo and called in Japan's ambassador in protest at the visits late last month.

Washington, which is hosting Ms Park, is keen on a smoothing over relations between key allies Tokyo and Seoul. Some commentators have said the US could be pressuring Mr Abe not to review the 1993 apology over "comfort women".