TOKYO: Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, emphasised that future generations should not have to keep saying sorry yesterday (Friday) but expressed "profound grief" for the "immeasurable damage and suffering" the nation's military caused before and during the Second World War.
In a closely watched speech on the eve of the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender, Mr Abe said in a televised speech that in the 1930s the nation "took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war".
"I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished, both at home and abroad", he said. "I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences."
He added that we have "engraved in our hearts" the suffering of Japan's neighbours, including South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Mr Abe also made reference to women who were forced to serve in brothels for the troops, known as "comfort women". "We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured," he said.
But he added later that future generations of Japanese should not have to continually apologise.
"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who had nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.
China and South Korea did not appear to be appeased by the comments, with South Korea's Yonhap news agency reporting that Mr Abe "did not offer his own apology clearly".
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Mr Abe had failed to offer a personal apology for "past atrocities".
More than 20?million Chinese citizens are thought to have died as a result of Japan's invasion, occupation and atrocities, while Tokyo colonised Korea for 35 years. Japan's wartime history has come under a renewed focus since Mr Abe swept to power in late 2012. The 60-year-old has been criticised by some for playing down Japan's past and trying to expand the role of the military.
His 2013 visit to Yasukuni Shrine - seen by Japan's neighbours as a potent symbol of its militarist past - sent relations with Beijing and Seoul to their lowest point in decades
Before the speech, Japanese media had speculated whether Mr Abe would follow a landmark 1995 statement by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama. The so-called Murayama Statement, which became a benchmark for subsequent apologies, expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" for the "tremendous damage" inflicted.
A poll published in the Mainichi newspaper yesterday found 47 per cent thought Japan's involvement in the Second World War was "wrong" because it was an invasion.
It also said 44 per cent of respondents thought Japan had apologised enough over the war, while 31 per cent thought it had not. Thirteen per cent said Japan had no reason to apologise.