IMAGE: Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi
Achmad Ibrahim  /  AP
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks during Friday's meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.
updated 4/22/2005 7:32:11 AM ET 2005-04-22T11:32:11

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,” Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said at the opening ceremony of the gathering in Jakarta. “Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility.”

Aiming to defuse tension
Koizumi’s apology did not go beyond what Japanese leaders previously have said, but its delivery at the conference in Indonesia clearly was aimed at ending hostilities 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 Koizumi told reporters Friday that he might meet Hu on Saturday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported. But China said it was still considering the proposal. Hu has a full schedule of bilateral meetings 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 wartime Japanese offenses, including mass sex slavery and germ warfare. The protesters also have targeted Tokyo’s Security Council bid.

The protests also have been fueled by 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.

'Deep remorse'
“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.

In a move that contrasted with Koizumi’s 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, the prime minister said that Japan will stick to a “peaceful path” and increase its overseas development aid to Asian and African nations.

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.

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