Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems bent on telling the world how Japan will contribute to world peace in a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, while pledging to abide by previous landmark declarations apologising for Japan's wartime actions.
He has also promised to implement drastic reforms this year to rejuvenate the economy.
Mr Abe's proposed statement is expected to be issued on Aug 15, the day in 1945 when emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender.
"Looking towards the next 80, 90 and 100 years, Japan must make greater contributions to world peace and stability under the flag of proactive pacifism. I want to convey my clear intentions to the world in this milestone year," Mr Abe told a news conference yesterday after praying at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture. In an annual New Year ritual, the Premier visited the shrine, with 11 ministers in tow.
He said his administration has inherited the positions on historical issues of previous administrations, "including the Murayama statement", and pledged to continue to abide by them. The Murayama statement, issued in 1995, apologised to neighbouring Asian countries for Japan's wartime aggression and colonisation.
"How should Japan, reflecting on the last war and following the path of a peaceful nation after the war, contribute to world peace in future? We want to call upon expertise to come up with a new statement that we can announce to the world," said Mr Abe.
Reports said the government is expected to put together a panel of experts in March to craft a statement along the lines of Mr Abe's thinking.
There are concerns among neighbouring countries, especially China and South Korea, that the proposed statement by the conservative leader may be an attempt to please right-wing elements by playing down Japan's wartime responsibilities.
Despite Mr Abe's promises to abide by past government declarations, his previous questioning of those documents has caused unease. He once took issue with the Murayama statement in Parliament, saying that there was no internationally agreed definition on what "aggression" means.
China noted Mr Abe's comments at a briefing yesterday by its Foreign Ministry.
"We hope Japan will be consistent in its words and actions, have a correct understanding and attitude towards its history of aggression, and abide by its statements and promises regarding history," said ministry spokesman Hua Chunying in Beijing.
In particular, Seoul will be watching to see what Mr Abe might have to say about the issue of wartime sexual slaves. Mr Abe has said he abides by the 1993 Kono statement which apologises for Japan's forced recruitment of such so-called "comfort women", many of them from South Korea.
But he had ordered a review of how the statement was put together, casting doubts on the veracity of testimony by former South Korean comfort women.
Mr Abe also pledged to make greater progress in reforms needed to revitalise the economy.
He said "resolute action" would be taken during the next session of Parliament, due to be convened on Jan 26.
"The Japanese economy will surely come back to life. For that purpose, we need to proceed with bold reforms that have never before been done," he told reporters.
This article was first published on January 6, 2015.
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