Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed deep remorse on Friday over World War II and said previous national apologies were unshakeable, but emphasised future generations should not have to keep saying sorry.
In a closely watched speech just ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the nationalist premier appeared to tread a fine line between regret over Japanese wartime aggression while also focusing on what his pacifist country had done since the end of the conflict.
"Japan has repeatedly expressed feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war.... We have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war," Abe said.
"Such position(s) articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future."
When speaking about China, which suffered from Japan's imperial march across Asia, Abe referred to "unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military".
Referring to those who perished in the war, Abe expressed "profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences".
He added that we have "engraved in our hearts" the suffering of Asian neighbours, including South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
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 have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.
China and South Korea had previously made clear they wanted Abe to stick to explicit prime ministerial apologies. They did not give immediate reactions to Abe's speech on Friday.
China says more than 20 million of its citizens died as a result of Japan's invasion, occupation and atrocities, while Tokyo colonised the Korean peninsula for 35 years until 1945.
Japan's wartime history has come under a renewed focus since 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.
The statement has been top news in Japan as media outlets speculated on whether Abe would follow a landmark 1995 statement issued by then-premier 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, particularly in Asia.