Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed deep remorse over World War II and says previous national apologies are unshakeable, but emphasises future generations should not have to keep saying sorry.
In a closely watched speech a day before the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the nationalist prime minister appeared to tread a fine line between regret over Japanese wartime aggression and a focus on what his pacifist country has done since the end of the conflict.
"Japan has repeatedly expressed feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war ... we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war," Abe said on Friday (local time).
"Such position[s] articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future."
When speaking about China, which suffered from Japan's imperial march across Asia, Abe referred to "unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military".
Referring to those who perished in the war, Abe expressed "profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences".
He added that the Japanese have "engraved in our hearts" the suffering of Asian neighbours, including South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
But he said later that future generations of Japanese should not have to continually apologise.
"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.
China and South Korea have previously made clear they wanted Abe to stick to explicit prime ministerial apologies. They did not give immediate reactions to his speech on Friday.
China says more than 20 million of its citizens died because of Japan's invasion, occupation and atrocities, while Tokyo colonised the Korean peninsula for 35 years until 1945.
Japan's wartime history has come under a renewed focus since Abe swept to power in late 2012.
The 60-year-old has been criticised by some for playing down Japan's past and trying to expand the role of the military.
He has raised concerns among his Asian neighbours with previous comments about the need for a "forward-looking attitude" that concentrated on the positive role his country had played in Asia in the post-war years.
He has also made waves by quibbling over the definition of "invade", and provoked anger by downplaying Tokyo's formalised system of sex slavery in military brothels.