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Japan's emperor strikes more apologetic tone than Abe over second world war

Japan's emperor has voiced "deep remorse" on the 70th anniversary of his country's defeat in the second world war, in a departure from previous remarks that is seen a gentle swipe at the country's conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

Abe on Friday expressed "utmost grief" for the suffering Japan inflicted in the war, but said future generations should not have to keep apologising for the mistakes of the past. He offered no fresh apology of his own.

Emperor Akihito, 81, said at a memorial service on the anniversary of the day his father, Hirohito, announced Japan's defeat: "Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people, express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war, and pray for world peace and the further prosperity of our country."

Akihito, whose words could be interpreted as more contrite than Abe's, has expressed remorse before, but never at the annual war memorial. He has often urged Japan not to forget the suffering experienced by millions in Asia during the conflict, and attempted to promote reconciliation between Japan and its former victims.

The Japanese emperor's status as a living god ended with the country's defeat on 15 August 1945 and the introduction of a new constitution authored by US occupation authorities.

Akihito, a strictly symbolic figure, is banned by the constitution from making political statements, but in his brief address at Tokyo's Budokan hall on Saturday, he appeared to use carefully nuanced language to communicate his feelings about the war.

Abe's departure from the landmark 1995 statement by the then prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, in which he issued a "heartfelt apology" for Japan's "aggression" and "colonial rule" on the Asian mainland, drew criticism from China and South Korea.

Both countries have accused Abe of attempting to alter the accepted narrative of Japan's wartime conduct to portray the country in a more positive light.

Beijing says Japan has yet to confront atrocities it committed after invading parts of China in the 1930s. In South Korea, Abe has come under fire for his refusal to acknowledge that Japanese military authorities coerced tens of thousands of young women into working in frontline brothels during the war.

South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, said Abe's speech left much to be desired and contained "regrettable elements", adding that she hoped Japan would quickly address the issue of women's "honour and dignity".

On Friday, Abe made an oblique reference to "women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured", but he omitted any mention of Korean sex slaves, known in Japan as "comfort women".

In a commentary, China's state-run news agency Xinhua accused Abe of performing "linguistic tricks" in his attempts to avoid further damaging Japan's relationship with Beijing while appeasing his conservative support base.

"By adding that it is unnecessary for Japan's future generations to keep apologising, Abe seemed to say that his once-for-all apology can close the page of history," it said.

"Instead of offering an unambiguous apology, Abe's statement is rife with rhetorical twists like 'maintain our position of apology' - dead giveaways of his deep-rooted historical revisionism, which has haunted Japan's neighbourhood relations."

The Chinese foreign ministry said Japan "should make a clear explanation and a sincere apology to the people of the countries who suffered from that era of military aggression" and "take concrete actions to gain the trust of its Asian neighbours and the global community".

The condemnation from China and Seoul was less forthright than some had expected - a possible sign that in stating Japanese administrations would continue to uphold - though not repeat - previous official apologies, Abe had gone some way towards meeting their demands.

On Saturday morning, about 60 conservative MPs, including at least two cabinet ministers, made a pilgrimage to Yasukuni, a shrine in Tokyo that honours 2.5 million Japanese war-dead, including 14 class-A war criminals.

The group entered the shrine as rightwing extremists filled the grounds, some dressed as Japanese imperial army soldiers, others in dark-blue boiler suits waving the rising-sun flag.

Abe, aware that a visit to Yasukuni on the war anniversary risked inflaming opinion in China and South Korea, where it is regarded as a symbol of Japanese militarism, did not attend.

Instead, he sent a cash offering to the shrine via his aide, Koichi Hagiuda. "I paid respects to the souls of those who sacrificed their precious lives in the past war," Hagiuda said, adding that Abe had made the offering in his role as head of the Liberal Democratic party.

Sanae Takaichi, the internal affairs minister, told reporters after her visit: ""How we console the souls [of war victims] is a matter for individual countries. It should not be a diplomatic issue."

While he did not issue a new apology of his own on Friday, Abe referred to Japan's past "aggression", promising it would "never again resort to any form of threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes".

"We shall abandon colonial rule for ever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world," he said.

He added: "Our country inflicted immeasurable damage on innocent people. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dreams and beloved family. When I contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief."

The US welcomed Abe's statement, describing Japan's postwar development as a model for other countries.

"We welcome Prime Minister Abe's expression of deep remorse for the suffering caused by Japan during the World War II era, as well as his commitment to uphold past Japanese government statements on history," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

"For 70 years Japan has demonstrated an abiding commitment to peace, democracy, and the rule of law. This record stands as a model for nations everywhere."

[Source: By Justin McCurry, Tokyo, The Guardian, London, 15Aug15]

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