Chinese state media has expressed scepticism over the possibility of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologising for the country's wartime actions, citing conflicting reports over the contents of his speech marking Japan's World War II surrender.
Also, accusing Mr Abe of being a historical revisionist fond of downplaying Japan's wartime record, state media questioned his sincerity even if he does include key words such as "apology", "deep remorse", "aggression" and "colonial rule" when he speaks on Friday, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on Saturday.
The Global Times said in an editorial yesterday that Mr Abe's historical revisionism is well-known and "opportunism is universally considered as his main principle to adjust strategies over historical issues".
"Hence, there is a good chance that he may rewrite his statement draft at the last minute," it added.
The China Daily noted in an editorial yesterday that "with only days to go before his speech, Abe and his advisers are busy weighing and refining the wording".
"This in itself suggests that they are unwilling to face up to their country's history, and that they just want to come up with something that pacifies their critics without compromising their twisted outlook on history," it added.
Japanese state broadcaster NHK had reported on Monday that a draft of Mr Abe's speech included the word "apology", even though a separate report released last Thursday by a panel set up to advise Mr Abe did not suggest that he was going to apologise.
The panel said Japan's World War II leaders bore a heavy responsibility for a "reckless" conflict and referred to Japan's "aggression" on the Asian continent while adding that some panel members disagreed with this description.
The panel's deputy chairman, Mr Shinichi Kitaoka, also told reporters "it's up to the Prime Minister whether he apologises". On the same day, Mr Abe said he would express "remorse" over World War II, though his comments again made it unclear if he would repeat previous apologies made by Japanese leaders.
Statements by then premiers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi in 1995 and 2005 respectively contained the phrase "heartfelt apology" and are held up by China and South Korea as templates for Mr Abe to follow. An apology is also seen as an indicator of Japan's future direction, particularly under Mr Abe, who has raised their concerns with his moves to expand the role of Japan's self-defence forces.
Despite their scepticism, the two media outlets urged Mr Abe to do the right thing. "We hope he will make the right choice for his statement, whatever the reasons. And history will judge him fairly," wrote the Global Times.The China Daily warned that "tensions will escalate" if Mr Abe's speech "defies the calls for repentance and apology for Japan's past aggression".
Tsinghua University's Sino-Japanese issues expert Liu Jiangyong said that while there is confusion over whether Mr Abe plans to apologise, there is no doubt that the latter would not be entirely sincere even if he were to do so.
"It wouldn't be an issue if it was clear that he was going to repeat past apologies. Yet, he has managed to turn a non-issue into a big issue. The entire process shows that he wouldn't be sincere at all," Professor Liu told The Straits Times.
Renmin University foreign policy expert Jin Canrong believes the people-to-people sentiments would suffer in the event of a non-apology, but the Chinese government would react with restraint to maintain the improving bilateral ties since Mr Abe met President Xi Jinping last November.
It explains why China appears to have softened its demands for an apology from Mr Abe in recent months, he added.
"The government knows that long-running tensions in Sino-Japanese relations are not helpful to China's international image, economy and strategic aims," Professor Jin told The Straits Times.