TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday he was ready to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at an Asian-African summit in Jakarta this week if the chance arises, the latest sign of hope for a further thaw in Tokyo’s troubled ties with Beijing.
Abe is expected to make brief remarks on Wednesday at the summit, which will be closely watched for his stance on Japan’s wartime aggression amid concerns he wants to tone down past apologies. The tenor of his comments could determine whether he gets face time with the Chinese leader, some experts said.
“Nothing has been decided, but I am ready to meet if such an occasion is set up in a natural way,” Abe said on a TV news show when asked about a possible meeting with Xi.
Sino-Japanese ties have chilled in recent years due to feuds over wartime history, bitter memories of which persist in China, as well as territorial feuds and mutual mistrust over Abe’s bolder security policies and China’s military assertiveness.
Relations thawed a little after Abe met Xi for a rare summit in Beijing late last year and Abe’s remarks on history could hold one key to whether the cautious rapprochement continues.
Asked what message he wanted to send in Jakarta, Abe said: “I would like to talk about the future of Asia and Africa.”
He added that at the first such conference of Asia and African leaders 10 years after the war’s end, Japan renewed its pledge to contribute to Asia and follow a pacifist path.
A Japanese government source said Abe would express remorse over the war in his remarks but media have said he would not emulate his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, who in 2005 repeated a landmark apology in the same venue.
In a move that could send a mixed message, Abe will send a ritual offering to Yasukuni Shrine, where wartime leaders are honored with war dead, on Wednesday, when the shrine celebrates its spring festival, Japanese media reported.
Scores of ruling party lawmakers will pay their respects in person at the shrine, viewed by many in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
A week later, Abe will make a high-profile speech to a joint session of Congress, the first by a Japanese leader. There, he will stress that former enemies the United States and Japan are now the closest of allies, the Japanese source said.
Both the Jakarta remarks and the U.S. speech will provide hints to a statement Abe plans to make in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
Abe reiterated on Monday that he would uphold a landmark 1995 apology by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama but said that he wants to issue a forward-looking statement in his own words.
“If I’m going to say the same thing, I don’t see the point of issuing a new statement. I might as well copy the old one and give it out,” he said on the news program.
Many of Abe’s conservative allies believe Japan has apologized enough and that the path of peace Tokyo has tread for the past 70 years speaks for itself.
reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Alex Richardson