TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, echoing remarks made before U.S. Congress, may express "repentance" for Japan's role in World War Two when he issues a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict, an adviser to the Japanese leader said.
Abe's remarks, expected to be issued one day before the Aug. 15 anniversary, are being closely watched by China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's wartime occupation and colonisation run deep, and by Tokyo's close ally Washington.
The conservative Abe has said he will uphold past statements about the war, including then-premier Tomiichi Murayama's 1995"heartfelt apology" for Japan's aggression and colonialism. But his past remarks and stated desire to look to the future have raised concerns he wants to dilute those apologies.
Abe is expected to repeat past expressions of "deep remorse" but his conservative allies are opposed to any fresh apology.
In his speech to Congress in April, Abe stopped short of apologising but offered a new rhetorical twist when he spoke of his visit to Washington's World War Two memorial saying: "With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayers."
Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan and deputy head of a panel that submitted a report on Thursday meant to serve as reference for Abe's statement, said the premier could well repeat that term.
"He certainly knows that Japan did much worse things to China and Asia and if he can use it for U.S. soldiers, why not use the same word to Asian people? That is my expectation,"Kitaoka told Reuters in an interview.
The advisers agreed Japan had caused much damage in Asia through a "reckless war".
They referred to Japan's "aggression" in China after 1931, although two dissenters objected to the term because of a lack of definition in international law and a reluctance to single out Japan when other nations had engaged in similar acts.
Abe, seen by some critics as a revisionist who wants to play down wartime misdeeds, would spark criticism if he failed to acknowledge the mainstream view that the war was an act of aggression, Kitaoka said.
Conversely, Kitaoka said, "If he says the opposite, that will contribute to putting an end to it. Abe has been surrounded by criticism that he is a revisionist. We are trying to wipe out this kind of image."