Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed “deep remorse” for Japan’s wartime past in a speech Wednesday, but failed to repeat previous official apologies to the victims of Japan’s colonial aggression.
Abe also took a veiled swipe at China during his closely watched speech at the Asia-Africa summit in Indonesia, which many hoped would serve as an opportunity for Tokyo and Beijing to mend damaged ties.
In the lead-up to the event, the conservative Japanese leader had told local media outlets there was no need for him to reiterate the same landmark apologies made by his predecessors in 1995 and 2005.
His Jakarta speech made only passing reference to Japan’s past militarism, noting Tokyo had “feelings of deep remorse over the past war” but insisting its leaders had long ago committed to the principles of peace.
Abe also said the international community should “never allow to go unchecked the use of force by the mightier to twist the weaker around.”
This was an apparent reference to China, which has been accused of bullying its neighbors and is involved in a worsening dispute with Tokyo over a group of strategic islands in the East China Sea.
Earlier, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged greetings and politely shook hands at a photo session to kick off the conference.
Formal meeting Wednesday
Japanese officials said they expect the two leaders to hold a more formal meeting later Wednesday. It would be only the second time for Abe and Xi to meet since they took power.
Ties between China and Japan have long been strained. Recently, they have suffered further because of the territorial dispute and Tokyo’s stance on its wartime past.
One persistent source of irritation is Japanese leaders’ insistence on visiting a controversial Tokyo shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including some convicted World War Two-era war criminals.
Over 100 Japanese lawmakers paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine on Wednesday, though the visit’s controversy appeared to be lessened because of the absence of any cabinet members.
Abe also refrained from visiting this week, during the shrine’s annual spring festival, instead choosing to send a ritual offering.
The nationalist leader last visited the shrine in 2013. He defended the move by saying it is natural for him to pay respects to the country’s war dead.
Many in China and South Korea see the visits as evidence Japan is unrepentant for colonial-era atrocities committed in their countries.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said Japan should “squarely face and reflect on the history of aggression, properly handle the issue, and gain trust from its Asian neighbors and the global community with concrete actions.”
Source: Voice of America