Japanese premier's apology gets mixed reaction

Neighboring countries skeptical

critics at home say he shows weakness

April 23, 2005|By Bruce Wallace | Bruce Wallace,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TOKYO - Trying to calm a virulent nationalist debate with Japan's neighbors, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated his country's "feelings of deep remorse" for the suffering it inflicted during its imperial era, telling an audience of foreign leaders in Jakarta yesterday that Japan remains committed to acting peacefully with a "heartfelt apology always engraved in mind."

Koizumi repeated Japan's official policy of regret for its militarist past on the eve of a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, which Japanese officials sought to calm tensions between the two Asian powers.

Clashing territorial claims and conflicting views over shared history have picked at emotional scabs in the region recently, leading to violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and sharp exchanges with East Asian leaders.

The deteriorating relations between two of the world's main economic pistons have alarmed other capitals, and Koizumi's apology was also widely regarded in Japan as a move to ease the jitters of foreign leaders and financial markets.

Such apologies from Tokyo are infrequent, and Koizumi's decision to deliver one again yesterday at a gathering of Asian and African leaders was a bid to stanch further damage to Japan's international image.

Using an international forum for emphasis, Koizumi said, "In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. ... Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility."

But as Koizumi was speaking in Jakarta, more than 80 elected members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party were making an official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which controversially honors the souls of 14 convicted Class A Japanese war criminals executed by an Allied tribunal after World War II.

Koizumi has visited Yasukuni four times since becoming prime minister in 2001, a defiance of outside opinion that is regarded as a barometer of Japanese nationalism. Morever, he has promised to return this year.

As a result, many in China described his apology yesterday as driven by political expediency rather than a true reflection on Japan's militarist history.

"Koizumi's apology has very little significance at all," said Toh Lamseng, a visiting professor of international relations at Peking University. "The real issue is not simply an apology. It's real action."

Yang Donglan, head of the Institute of Japanese Studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, said that while China welcomes yesterday's apology, it is not clear how much it will repair relations in the long run: "The same kind of gesture was made by Japanese leaders before."

By contrast, some conservative voices in Japan seized on Koizumi's statement of formal contrition as a sign of weakness. His move was criticized by some nationalist media groups, which lamented Japan's readiness to apologize - again - for its imperial actions in an imperial age.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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