TOKYO — A government panel commissioned by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to review the country's recent history has praised Japan's postwar economic growth and commitment to pacifism but also cites a lack of reconciliation with China and South Korea.
The report released Thursday did not specify what Abe should say in his statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II later this month, or whether he should use the same language to convey the apology from 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Abe, known as a revisionist, is widely seen as trying to water down the 1995 apology by issuing his own statement, most likely focusing on the bright side of postwar Japan.
But the report, which acknowledges Japan's past aggression and expansionism as wrong decisions made by the military and already has an English translation, is apparently intended to soften skepticism over Japan's possible revisionism. It could complement Abe's possible shortcomings on history in the statement, expected on the eve of the anniversary of Japan's surrender 70 years ago.
The 38-page report did acknowledge Japan's aggression led to the country's expansionism in Asia from the 1930s through Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. The panel, however, did not reach consensus on the definition of aggression, while members shared views on other issues, said the panel's co-chairman Shinichi Kitaoka, president of International University of Japan and an expert on diplomacy and history.
The report urged sensitivity for the feelings of the victims of Japan's wartime actions, noting that hard feelings remain not just in Asia but also in the U.S., Australia and European countries whose war prisoners were treated harshly.
"It cannot be said that reconciliation with China and the Republic of Korea has been fully achieved. Even in Southeast Asian countries, with which Japan achieved reconciliation, there do exist people who harbor complicated feelings towards Japan," the report said. "It is important for Japan to continue engaging in steady dialogue with China and (South) Korea towards reconciliation, while, at the same time, communicating with Southeast Asian countries with a sense of humility, without forgetting about the past."
The report touched on Japan's harsh colonization of Korea very lightly, and it called on South Korea to cooperate in efforts toward reconciliation, saying Seoul's often emotional responses have hampered reconciliatory moves.
The report said Japan has come a long way toward reconciliation with its Asian victims as well as its former enemies. Japan's impressive economic growth in the 1960s also enabled it to become a top donor for its former war victims, it said.
Kitaoka said the report is to provide analysis of Japanese history and not to tell Abe what to do.
"It's up to the prime minister to decide what kind of message he plans to issue, he said. "I hope the essence of the report will be there, but personally I don't think it is necessary to inherit the same language" from the 1995 statement.
Abe has said he was not necessarily standing by the Murayama statement, although he later promised to keep it when China and South Korea protested.
In the 1995 statement, signed by Murayama and approved by his entire Cabinet, Japan offered its clearest and most extensive apology to the war victims.
During his two anniversary speeches since taking office in December 2012, Abe omitted war apologies and said Japan faced its past and kept its peace pledges.
Abe has repeatedly said there is no clear definition of what constitutes aggression, and has refused to say whether he would spell out specific issues like "colonial rule," ''aggression," and "feelings of deep remorse" as well as 'heartfelt apology." He has said focusing on the language would trivialize the content.
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