SINGAPORE - Asian countries led by China and Japan should put World War II behind them to promote regional trust and co-operation, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Friday.
Lee, in a keynote speech opening an annual security conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, said that 70 years after the war ended it "continues to cast a shadow over relations between the old adversaries, in particular between Japan and its neighbours, China and Korea".
"It is past the time to put this history behind us properly, like the Europeans have done," Lee said at the forum attended by defence ministers and senior military officers from the United States, Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
China is represented at the three-day meeting by Admiral Sun Jianguo, the deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, while Japan and South Korea both sent their defence ministers.
Japanese defence chief Gen Nakatani will hold talks with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-Koo on the sidelines of the talks, Seoul said last week.
In his speech, Singapore's Lee urged Japan and the two East Asian neighbours it had either colonised or occupied to display "statesmanship and largeness of spirit" in dealing with each other.
Singapore itself was occupied by Japanese forces during the war but went on to build strong economic, political and cultural ties with Tokyo.
"Japan needs to acknowledge past wrongs, and Japanese public opinion needs to be more forthright in rejecting the more outrageous interpretations of history by its right-wing academics and politicians," Lee said.
"Japan has already expressed remorse or apologies for the war in general terms... but on specific issues like comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre, its positions have been less unequivocal," Lee said.
"At the same time, Japan's neighbours need to accept Japan's acknowledgements, and not demand that Japan apologise over and over again," the premier added.
"The history of the war should not be used to put Japan on the defensive, or to perpetuate enmities into future generations." Lee's comments come amid lingering animosities over territorial and historical disputes with roots in Japanese colonisation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945 and occupation of China before and during World War II.
The foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and Japan met in Seoul in March and pledged to work towards a trilateral leadership summit at "the earliest" opportunity, but observers say such a meet is unlikely in the short term.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping have already held two fruitful bilateral summits.
But Park has refused to sit down one-on-one with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while Xi has only managed a brief meeting with Abe on the sidelines of an APEC gathering in Beijing last year.
The last leadership summit was held in 2012, and all three countries have had new leaders since then.