TOKYO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could help remove international doubts about Japan’s stance toward its wartime past by apologizing over World War Two in a statement he plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, said former premier Yasuo Fukuda.
The statement by Abe, whose conservative agenda includes adopting a less apologetic tone toward the wartime past and bolstering Japan’s defenses, will be closely parsed in China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s past militarism run deep.
Washington, which wants better ties between Japan and its Asian neighbors, will also be keenly watching.
Abe has said he intends to express remorse over the war in his statement and that his cabinet upholds past apologies, including the landmark 1995 remarks by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama and similar comments by Junichiro Koizumi in 2005.
But it is unclear whether Abe would himself repeat the “heartfelt apology” contained in those statements.
“Naturally, to say one upholds the Murayama and Koizumi statements means this is included,” Fukuda, who helped broker a Sino-Japanese summit late last year, told Reuters in an interview.
“But I think it would be good to repeat this,” he said.
“If we could be persuasive simply by saying that for 70 years we have been a peaceful country and made great efforts, that would be fine. But to give firmer support to what we have done, we should refer to what went before,” added Fukuda, who was premier from 2007-2008 and is seen as a diplomatic dove.
Fukuda also said Abe would likely be cautious about visiting Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, a move that would be especially touchy this anniversary year.
In the run-up to the November breakthrough meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing had sought assurances Abe would not repeat his December 2013 pilgrimage to the shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored there along with war dead.
But Abe has declined to say if he would go again.
“I think one should not do something provocative toward international opinion at this juncture, and I think that Prime Minister Abe is thinking quite cautiously about whether to go to Yasukuni Shrine,” Fukuda said.
Fukuda, who met Chinese officials and Xi to help lay the groundwork for the summit, also said he had conveyed this view to the Chinese side ahead of the leaders’ talks.
Editing by Jeremy Laurence