Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe offered his "deepest remorse" and "sincere condolences" for the suffering his country inflicted during World War II on Friday, but emphasized that future generations shouldn't have to continue apologizing.
In a televised address delivered one day before the 70th anniversary of the war's end, Abe voiced his "profound grief" for all who died but charged that Japan had "repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war".
"On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences," Abe said, according to the Associated Press, adding: "History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone."
"In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions," he said, "we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours," he continued.
However, Abe emphasized that it is unnecessary for future Japanese generations to feel the need to apologize for past grievances: "We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with the war, be predestined to apologize. Even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face history. We have a responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Abe's statement had been "watched closely by neighboring countries on whether it would include an apology," as Japan's neighbors hold deep historical resentment over the invasion and occupation of their homelands by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war.
Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who issued a heartfelt statement in 1995, had also called on Abe to sincerely apologize for Japan's past aggression.
The New York Times reports Murayama, now 91, criticized Abe's speech on Friday afternoon, telling a news program on the Fuji TV network that "He used flowery words and talked at length, but he didn't make clear why he was doing it."
China's state-run news agency Xinhua also criticized the speech, accusing Abe of performing "linguistic tricks" and coming across as insincere.
"Instead of offering an unambiguous apology, Abe's statement is rife with rhetorical twists like 'maintain our position of apology' - dead giveaways of his deep-rooted historical revisionism, which has haunted Japan's neighbourhood relations," it said.
"By adding that it is unnecessary for Japan's future generations to keep apologising, Abe seemed to say that his once-for-all apology can close the page of history. However, those countries which suffered from Japan's aggression would never forget that dark period of history, as Japanese would always remember the horrific scenes of A-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
According to the BBC, China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui responded to Mr Abe's speech by telling the Japanese ambassador that Tokyo "should make a clear explanation and a sincere apology" to those who suffered during that period.
He also urged Japan to "take concrete actions to gain the trust of its Asian neighbours and the global community", according to a statement on the foreign ministry website.
However, Jennifer Lind, an expert on Asia's history disputes at Dartmouth College, told the New York Times that Japan had acknowledged past wrongdoings more frequently and honestly than any other country. She also argued that Abe, for all his flaws as a messenger, is "trying to bring what he sees as balance back to the historical discussion."