'Deep repentance' but no war apology from Japan PM Abe

He pledges to contribute to Asia's development in US Congress address

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed "deep repentance" for the country's wartime past, stressing that Japan will not avert its eyes from the suffering it has caused and pledging to account for its history by contributing to development in Asia.

Speaking during a historic address to a joint meeting of the US Congress, the Japanese leader devoted a large portion of his speech to addressing Japanese atrocities in World War II but stopped short of offering the full apology some had lobbied for.

Still, throughout his visit to the United States so far, Mr Abe has made several attempts to try and heal wounds of the past. On Tuesday, he visited the Arlington National Cemetery where many US World War II soldiers are buried and yesterday he stopped at the World War II memorial.

He said of his visit to the memorial: "History is harsh, what is done cannot be undone. With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayer for some time.

"My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect, my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost within World War II."

Despite Japan being among America's strongest allies in Asia, Mr Abe is the first Japanese prime minister to ever speak before both chambers of Congress.

Mr Abe added yesterday: "Our actions brought suffering to the people of Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard. We must all the more contribute in every respect to the development of Asia.

"We must spare no effort in working for the peace and prosperity of the region, reminding ourselves that we have come all this way."

Historical issues aside, Mr Abe also took the opportunity to lobby US lawmakers directly to support the landmark free-trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, that brings together 12 nations on both sides of the Pacific.

He said: "The US and Japan must take the lead. We must take the lead to build a market fair, dynamic, sustainable and free from arbitrary intentions of any nations... We can spread our shared values around the world and have them take root - the rule of law, democracy and freedom. That is exactly what the TPP is all about."

His remarks come in the wake of a bilateral meeting between him and US President Barack Obama, where the two had pledged to take their alliance global.

At a press conference on Tuesday at the White House, the two leaders outlined an ambitious list of global challenges they intended to tackle jointly.

Said President Obama: "We are two global partners that stand together for security and human dignity around the world - opposing Russia's aggression against Ukraine, providing relief to innocent civilians threatened by ISIL, combating Ebola and promoting global health, and now offering help to the people of Nepal, who are in our prayers today."

ISIL is an acronym used to describe the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Abe described the partnership as an "alliance within the context of the world".

He said at the White House: "Today, we turned a new page in the history of the US-Japan alliance, which exceeds half a century. This is a Japan-US alliance within the context of the world.

"Japan and the United States are partners who share basic values, such as freedom, democracy, and basic human rights, and the rule of law."

Analysts say however that there remain obstacles that could curb the potential of the alliance, including the question of whether the Japanese people will support an expanded military role.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg