x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Japan will not revise its past apologies over wartime atrocities

Japan does not plan to revise past apologies to neighbouring countries for atrocities committed by its Imperial Army before and during the second world war.

TOKYO // Japan does not plan to revise past apologies to neighbouring countries for atrocities committed by its Imperial Army before and during the second world war, top government officials said Wednesday.

The comments by the chief government spokesman and the foreign minister appear intended to allay criticisms of prime minister Shinzo Abe's earlier vows to revise the apologies, including an acknowledgement of sexual slavery during the war.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan recognises the harm it caused during its invasion and occupation of much of Asia, and that it has repeatedly and clearly stated that position.

"The Abe government has expressed sincere condolences to all victims of the war, in and out of the country, and there is no change in that," Mr Suga said. "We have repeatedly said we have no intention of making this a diplomatic and political issue, but I'm afraid this may not be fully understood."

Mr Suga was responding to a question about a remark this week by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, published in The Washington Post, asserting that Japan should correct its view of its wartime history.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida echoed Mr Suga's remarks.

"The Japanese government has accepted the facts of history in a spirit of humility, expressed once again our feelings of deep remorse and our heartfelt apology, and expressed our feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad," he said. "And prime minister Abe shares the same view."

China and South Korea have reacted harshly to recent nationalistic events and remarks, including visits by several Japanese government ministers and nearly 170 lawmakers to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which memorialises 2.3 million war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted of war crimes. Rancour over territorial disputes has further strained relations between Japan and its neighbours.

Only in the past two decades has Japan acknowledged many of its past brutalities, including medical atrocities, use of poison gas and forcing women in countries under wartime occupation into prostitution - a legacy that taints Tokyo's relations with its neighbours even today.

Mr Abe, whose conservative government took power after winning elections in December, had earlier advocated revising a 1993 statement by then-prime minister Yohei Kono expressing remorse for the suffering caused to the sexual slaves of Japanese troops.

On Tuesday, Mr Suga acknowledged a comment by former US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer, who reportedly said revising the "Kono statement" would harm Japan-US ties.

"Regarding the Kono statement, we have never stated we are considering a revision," Mr Suga said.

Since taking office, Abe has said he prefers to leave historical issues up to historians and avoid comment. However, he has questioned the meaning of the word "aggression" and suggested his Cabinet does not necessarily support all of a 1995 apology by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, which is seen as Japan's main expression of remorse for its wartime and colonial past.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.