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Japan PM expresses WWII remorse, but not enough for victims

15 august 2015, 13:05
0

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed deep remorse Friday over World War II and said previous national apologies would stand, but Asian nations that suffered under Tokyo's militarism were unmoved, AFP reports.

In a closely watched speech on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the nationalist premier appeared to tread a fine line between regret over Japanese wartime aggression and what his pacifist country had done since the end of the conflict.

"Japan has repeatedly expressed feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war... we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war," Abe said.

"Such position(s) articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakeable into the future."

When speaking about China, Abe referred to "unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military" and said Tokyo "took the wrong course" in going to war.

The grandson of a wartime cabinet minister, Abe added the Japanese have "engraved in our hearts" the suffering of Asian neighbours, including South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

He expressed "profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences", and said this was also for millions of Japanese who died, some from the US atomic bombings.

But his speech did not sway officials in Beijing.

Late on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan had missed a chance to make a "sincere apology" for its actions, without mentioning Abe by name.

Japan should have made "a clean break with the past of militarist aggression, rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle," Hua added.

China says more than 20 million of its citizens died as a result of Japan's invasion, occupation and atrocities, while Tokyo colonised the Korean peninsula for 35 years until 1945.

  Abe: Next generation need not apologise 

Initial media reaction in South Korea was also largely negative, with television analysts noting there was no explicit apology for Japan's wartime aggression.

"Abe skips his own apology," ran the headline on the national Yonhap news agency, which said the speech had fallen short of South Korea's expectations.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se received a call from his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida to explain the message, his ministry said.

Yun responded that Seoul wanted to see Japan's "sincere action" regarding historical issues, the ministry said. A formal South Korean response was expected later. 

Beijing and Seoul had previously made clear they wanted him to stick to explicit prime ministerial apologies.

In North Korea, the foreign ministry described his speech as "an unpardonable mockery of the Korean people," in a statement released by state news agency KCNA.

Abe's expressions of remorse were not an "honest admission and apology" for the "monstrous crimes and unspeakable damage done," it said.

Abe has made waves by quibbling over the definition of "invade", and provoked anger by downplaying Tokyo's formalised system of sex slavery in military brothels.

Controversially, the prime minister -- who has been criticised for playing down Japan's war record and trying to expand its present-day military -- said future generations of Japanese should not have to apologise for its past.

"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.

The United States, for its part, welcomed Abe's statement "as well as his commitment to uphold past Japanese government statements on history," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

  'Forward-looking attitude'

Much speculation had focused on whether Abe would follow a landmark 1995 statement issued by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama.

The so-called Murayama Statement, which became a benchmark for subsequent apologies, expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" for the "tremendous damage" inflicted, particularly in Asia.

Japan's wartime history has come under a renewed focus since Abe swept into power in late 2012, his second stint as prime minister.

Abe had raised concerns with his Asian neighbours with comments about adopting a "forward-looking attitude" that concentrated on the positive role his country had played in the post-war years.

A 2013 visit to a controversial Tokyo war memorial shrine sent relations with Beijing and Seoul to their lowest point in decades, already suffering from long-standing territorial disputes.

Abe's nationalism tends to be especially popular with a small but vocal section of the political right that believes Japan is unfairly criticised for its violent wartime past.

Japan's own national self-narrative has over the decades become one more of victim of the US atomic bombings and a war-mongering government, rather than colonialist aggressor largely responsible for an ill-fated Pacific conflict.

There has been little in the way of a national reckoning or blame thrust upon wartime emperor Hirohito, unlike in Germany where blame was heaped on Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

A poll published in Japan's Mainichi newspaper on Friday found 47 percent of those surveyed thought Japan's involvement in WWII was "wrong" because it was an invasion.

It also said 44 percent of respondents thought Japan had apologised enough over the war, while 31 percent thought it had not.


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