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Japan will not revise official apologies for its military's conduct in Asia before and during the second world war, officials have said, in an apparent attempt to avoid further diplomatic clashes with China and South Korea.
The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Japan had stated its regret for the harm its troops caused to civilian populations on the Asian mainland in the first half of the 20th century, and had no plans to alter its stance.
"The Abe government has expressed sincere condolences to all victims of the war, in and out of the country, and there is no change in that," Suga told reporters in Tokyo. "We have repeatedly said we have no intention of making this a diplomatic and political issue, but I'm afraid this may not be fully understood."
Suga's remarks will lay to rest, for now, fears that the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would revise previous apologies to the country's wartime victims, including tens of thousands of women forced to work as sex slaves in frontline brothels by the Japanese imperial army.
Abe, a nationalist who wants to revise Japan's pacifist constitution to give its military a bigger role overseas, had voiced support for altering a 1993 apology issued by the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, for the forced recruitment of the so-called comfort women, most of whom were from the Korean peninsula.
In 1995, the then socialist prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, issued a more general expression of remorse over Japan's wartime conduct.
Tokyo's insistence that the apologies will remain unaltered may have been in response to rare public pressure from the US, whose former ambassador to Tokyo, Thomas Schieffer, warned last week that revisions to the Kono statement risked harming US-Japan ties.
Earlier this week, the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, who is on an official visit to Washington, said Japan had reopened old wounds and urged it to "correct" its view of history.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Park said "the Japanese have been opening past wounds and have been letting them fester, and this applies not only to Korea but also to other neighbouring countries.
"This arrests our ability to really build momentum, so I hope that Japan reflects upon itself."
Her remarks came after Japan's finance minister, Taro Aso, and more than 160 other politicians visited Yasukuni shrine, a symbol of Japanese militarism and spiritual resting place for 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.
Abe, who did not visit the shrine but sent a ritual offering, raised tensions recently when he questioned whether Japan's wartime conduct in Asia could be described as aggression.
Asked in parliament if he would consider revising the Murayama statement, he replied: "The definition of what constitutes aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community.
"Things that happened between nations will look differently depending on which side you view them from."
But on Wednesday, Abe told a parliamentary committee: "We share the same recognition with the past cabinets that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to people in Asia."
The foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, said Abe's government had "accepted the facts of history in a spirit of humility, expressed once again our feelings of deep remorse and our heartfelt apology, and expressed our feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad. And prime minister Abe shares the same view."
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