Japanese prime minister apologizes for wartime aggression, in bid to ease row with China

Japan's prime minister expressed "deep remorse" over his country's World War II aggression against Asian neighbors in a speech Friday at the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta - a move aimed at defusing Tokyo's growing tensions with China.

"In the past Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said at the opening ceremony of the Asian-African Summit in Jakarta. "Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility."

Koizumi's apology did not go beyond what Japanese leaders previously have said, but its delivery at the conference clearly was aimed at easing an escalating row with China over Tokyo's handling of its wartime atrocities and its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Japan has sought a one-on-one meeting between Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Jakarta and was hopeful it could be arranged Friday. But China says it's still considering the proposal. Hu has a packed schedule of bilateral meetings with Algeria, Pakistan, Nepal and Papua New Guinea on Friday.

Massive 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 also have targeted Tokyo's Security Council bid.

Also fueling tensions are disputes over gas-drilling in disputed waters and Koizumi's repeated visits to a wartime shrine in Tokyo that honors executed World War II war criminals along with 2.5 million Japanese war dead.

"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," Koizumi said.

But in a move that contrasted with his conciliatory comments, 80 Japanese lawmakers on Friday visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. There were no Cabinet ministers among the group, which visited the shrine in observance of an annual spring festival.

In Jakarta, Koizumi said that Japan will stick to a "peaceful path" and increase its overseas development aid to Asian and African nations.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in an interview in Jakarta that Koizumi's speech clearly shows Japan's regret, a core point he was hoping to convey to the delegates.

"We are not just rich people hanging around giving out money. We are doing this because our whole attitude is based on remorse," Akira Chiba said. Tokyo is one of the world's largest donor's of foreign aid. "I do hope that the Chinese will hear this message too."

He said Japan still expects "a formal apology for what happened ... because it's against international law what they did." The demonstrators have smashed windows of Japan's diplomatic missions and damaged Japanese restaurants.

The Chinese government insists that Japan is to blame for the troubles.

"It's not bad for us (if China does not apologize). It's bad for them. It's in the interest of both sides, not just our side," Chiba said.

Japan's Kyodo News Agency said Koizumi's remarks were based on a 1995 speech made by Tomiichi Murayama, the prime minister at the time, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Going beyond statements of remorse made by previous Japanese leaders, Murayama spoke of Japan's "mistaken national policy" that "caused tremendous damage and suffering to people of many countries" and offered a "heartfelt apology."

The two-day Indonesian summit draws together 80 nations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Asia-Africa conference that gave birth to the Nonaligned Movement, which tried to steer a neutral course between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

AUDRA ANG, Associated Press Writer

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