TOKYO • Japan's World War II leaders bear a heavy responsibility for a "reckless" conflict, according to a panel set up to advise Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he prepares a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the country's defeat.
The 16-strong committee of academics, businessmen and journalists met seven times from February to discuss a series of questions set by Mr Abe about Japan's behaviour in the 20th century, its post-war path and its vision for the future. Representatives presented a copy of their report to him yesterday.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea have been dogged by disagreements over its aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
The wording of Mr Abe's statement - expected to be released ahead of Aug 15, the date Japan announced its surrender to the Allies - could affect Japan's ties with its neighbours.
An official of Mr Abe's coalition partner party Komeito said this week that the statement must not reverse a recent improvement in Sino-Japanese relations that has enabled him to hold two meetings with President Xi Jinping of China.
WORLD WITHOUT NUCLEAR ARMS
As the only country ever attacked by an atomic bomb... we have a mission to create a world without nuclear arms.
PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE
Mr Abe yesterday said he would express "remorse" over World War II, but his comments left questions about whether he would repeat previous apologies.
"I will express remorse over the past war, our post-war path as a pacifist nation, and how Japan should further contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world in the future," he told reporters.
The nationalist leader also said he would follow previous explicit prime ministerial apologies over Japan's past "as a whole".
"It's up to the Prime Minister whether he apologises," the panel's deputy chairman, Mr Shinichi Kitaoka, told reporters in Tokyo after submitting the report.
The report said although the war helped Asian countries escape the bonds of colonialism, it was incorrect to say that Japan's national policy had been to fight for their freedom. Japan had its own colonies and made wartime decisions for its own survival and defence, though its view of its own interests was mistaken, it said.
The report referred to Japan's "aggression" on the Asian continent, with the caveat that some panel members did not agree with this description of its actions. Japan caused great damage in Asia, with a particularly large number of lives sacrificed in China, it said.
On Japan's post-war path, the panel said the country had remained more faithful than any other nation to the principle of not waging war. Japan should further strengthen its cooperation with its ally, the United States, and its armed forces should contribute more to international peace cooperation activities.
The report came as tens of thousands gathered in Hiroshima yesterday to mark 70 years since the dropping of the first atomic bomb, with opinion still divided over whether its deadly destruction was justified.
Bells tolled as a solemn crowd observed a moment of silence at 8.15am, marking the time when the detonation turned the bustling city into an inferno, killing thousands instantly and leaving others with horrific injuries to die a slow death.
Children, elderly survivors and delegates representing 100 countries were in the crowd, with many placing flowers in front of the cenotaph at Peace Memorial Park as doves were released into the air.
American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb, dubbed "Little Boy", on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, in one of the closing chapters of World War II. Nearly everything around it was incinerated by a wall of heat up to 4,000 deg C - hot enough to melt steel.
"As the only country ever attacked by an atomic bomb... we have a mission to create a world without nuclear arms," Mr Abe told the crowd. "We have been tasked with conveying the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, across generations and borders."
US Secretary of State John Kerry, at a regional diplomatic meeting in Malaysia, described the bombing as a "very, very powerful reminder" of the impact of war.
On Aug 9, the port city of Nagasaki was also attacked with an atomic bomb, killing more than 70,000 people.
The twin bombings dealt the final blows to imperial Japan, which surrendered on Aug 15, 1945, bringing an end to World War II.
While some historians say that they prevented many more casualties in a planned land invasion, critics counter that the attacks were not necessary to end the war, arguing that Japan was already heading for imminent defeat.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE