TOKYO: Japan’s conservative prime minister broke with two decades of tradition on Thursday by omitting any expression of remorse for Tokyo’s past aggression in Asia on the anniversary of its World War II surrender.
Shinzo Abe’s speech avoided words such as “profound remorse” and “sincere mourning” used by his predecessors to acknowledge the suffering caused by the Imperial Japanese Army as it stormed across East Asia—an omission sure to anger China and South Korea.
The hawkish premier has previously expressing unease over Japan’s apologies for wartime aggression. The country’s neighbours have also bristled at Abe’s talk of overhauling the pacifist constitution.
Seoul and Beijing lashed out when nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers, including three cabinet ministers, visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo before Abe’s speech.
The leafy site in the heart of the capital is seen overseas as a glorification of Japan’s imperialist past, including a brutal 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula.
In response, China summoned Japan’s envoy, saying it was “strongly opposed and strictly condemned” the shrine visits. It warned relations had “no future” unless Tokyo owned up to its past.
South Korea’s foreign ministry blasted Tokyo for “turning a blind eye” to its violent aggression during the first half of the 20th century.
And President Park Geun-hye said it was “hard to build trust without the willingness to face history and consider the wounds inflicted upon others” as she marked the Korean peninsula’s liberation from Japan.
The comments did not directly address the speech by Japan’s leader, who also dropped a reference in the annual speech to uphold Tokyo’s pledge not to wage war.
Abe was expected to stay away from the shrine but he reportedly sent a ritual offering via an aide.
“I will never forget the fact that the peace and prosperity we are enjoying now was built based on the sacrifice of your precious lives,” Abe said in a reference to the 2.5 million war dead honoured at the shrine.
Yasukuni enshrines citizens who died in World War II and other conflicts, but the names include 14 top convicted war criminals such as General Hideki Tojo, who authorised the attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into the war.
Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945 after the US dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Security was tight on Thursday with hundreds of police surrounding the shrine as right-wing nationalists carried flags calling on visitors to pray for Japan’s “heroic war dead”.
Police blocked a small group of visiting South Korean lawmakers from erecting an anti-Abe banner over fears of a clash.