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Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe apologetic over WWII, but says next generation not obliged
ABC Radio Australia - August 15, 2015
In a closely watched speech just ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the nationalist premier appeared to tread a fine line between regret over Japanese wartime aggression while also focusing on 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," Mr Abe said.
"Such position(s) articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future."
The legacy of the war still haunts relations with China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's sometimes brutal occupation and colonial rule before Tokyo's defeat in 1945.
When speaking about China, Mr Abe referred to "unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military".
"Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering," he said. "When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief."
But he added later that future generations of Japanese should not have to continually apologise. "In Japan, the post-war generations now exceed 80 per cent of its population," he said.
"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. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past."
Mr Abe said he hoped Beijing would recognise Japan's "candid feelings" and that he hoped to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping if the opportunity arose. But he told the news conference that attempts to "change the status quo by force" were unacceptable.
Tokyo and Beijing are feuding over tiny East China Sea isles, while Japan is also wary of China's military assertiveness in the South China Sea.
China says Japan should have made 'sincere' apology
China said 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. Hours after Mr Abe's address, China said Japan missed a chance to offer a "sincere apology" for its WWII aggression.
"Japan should have made an explicit statement on the nature of the war of militarism and aggression and its responsibility on the wars, made sincere apology to the people of victim countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
In Beijing's first official reaction to Mr Abe's remarks, Ms Hua added Japan should have made "a clean break with the past of militarist aggression, rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle."
Initial media reaction in South Korea was largely negative, with television analysts noting the general expressions of grief and remorse but 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.
The foreign ministry in Seoul said that, after Mr Abe's speech, foreign minister Yun Byung-Se had received a call from his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, to explain the message. Mr Yun simply responded that Seoul wanted to see Japan's "sincere action" regarding historical issues, the ministry said.
'Comfort women' left out of speech
Mr Abe said Japan should "never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured".
But he made no direct reference to "comfort women", as the women, many of them Korean, forced into prostitution at Japanese wartime military brothels have been euphemistically known.
Tokyo and Seoul have long been at odds over the issue of comfort women, with South Korea saying Japan has not done enough to atone for their suffering, despite a 1993 apology that recognised authorities' involvement in coercing the women. Mr Abe's statement comes as he pushes for a more robust defence policy through measures domestic critics say violate Japan's pacifist constitution.
Public doubts about the bills have triggered a slide in Mr Abe's ratings to below 40 percent. Washington has welcomed the changes, which Mr Abe has said were needed to meet new challenges, including a more assertive China. (AFP/Reuters)