Koizumi apologises for WW2 aggression

Japan’s Premier tries to lower tensions with China in public show of remorse.

IN WHAT is seen as Japan’s most public apology in a decade, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday expressed ‘deep remorse’ over his country’s aggression against its Asian neighbours during World War II.

‘Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility,’ he told leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, at the opening of the two-day Asia-Africa summit.

His remarks were clearly an attempt to ease growing tensions with Beijing over Tokyo’s handling of its wartime past and its bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said last night China welcomed the remarks. ‘For Koizumi to have made the comments that he made in such a forum, to express such an apology, we welcome that,’ its spokesman Kong Quan was quoted as saying.

‘Any recognition of a historical fact is welcome.’ But Mr Koizumi should back up his words with action, he added.

Japanese officials have been pushing for a meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Hu on the sidelines of the summit here.

Mr Koizumi told reporters after his speech that it would take place today. ‘We are going to meet,’ he said. ‘The talks will be based on friendship.’ But Mr Kong refused to confirm it last night, saying that both foreign ministries ‘are still talking’.

Earlier yesterday, the Chinese President, together with some 60 other leaders, listened intently when Mr Koizumi spoke about the pain his country had inflicted on its neighbours.

‘In the past, Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations,’ he said, adding that Japan squarely faced these facts of history.

‘And with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind, Japan has resolutely maintained, consistently since the end of World War II, never turning into a military power but an economic power, its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means, without recourse through the use of force,’ he said.

His comments echoed those of former Japanese premier Tomiichi Murayama on Aug 15, 1995.

Then marking the 50th anniversary of World War II, he spoke of Japan’s ‘mistaken national policy’ that ’caused tremendous damage and suffering to people of many countries’ and offered a ‘heartfelt apology’.

Anti-Japanese protests erupted in major Chinese cities this month after Tokyo approved a new history textbook that critics say plays down Japan’s wartime atrocities, including mass sex slavery and germ warfare. The protesters have also strongly opposed Tokyo’s Security Council bid.

Also fuelling tensions are disputes over gas-drilling in disputed waters and Mr Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that honours executed World War II war criminals along with 2.5 million Japanese war dead. Yesterday, about 80 Japanese right-wing lawmakers, and later a Cabinet minister, visited the controversial shrine.

China has expressed its ‘strong dissatisfaction’ with the negative actions of some Japanese politicians.

On the possibility of a Hu-Koizumi meeting today, a Japanese official told The Straits Times: ‘Many people are doubting whether the meeting will achieve anything. But we need to give it a chance.’

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