, TOKYO, Aug 15 – Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke with two decades of tradition Thursday by omitting any expression of remorse over Japan’s past aggression in Asia on the anniversary of its 1945 surrender.
Abe’s speech which came after nearly 100 lawmakers including two cabinet ministers visited a controversial war shrine avoided typical words such as “profound remorse” and “sincere mourning” to atone for those who suffered as Tokyo’s Imperial army stormed across East Asia.
The omission was sure to anger China and South Korea, which have bristled at Abe’s talk about overhauling Japan’s pacifist constitution, while visits to the Yasukuni shrine enrage neighbours who see its as a symbol of Tokyo’s imperialist past.
Abe also avoided a promise typically given by past Japanese premiers to “uphold (Japan’s) pledge not to engage in war”.
“I will never forget the fact that the peace and prosperity we are enjoying now was built based on the sacrifice of your precious lives,” Abe said in a reference to the 2.5 million war dead honoured at the shrine.
Yasukuni enshrines citizens who died in World War II and other conflicts, including 14 top convicted war criminals such as General Hideki Tojo, who authorised the attack on Pearl Harbor which drew the United States into the war.
Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945 after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Visits to the Yasukuni site by Japanese politicians anger neighbouring nations, which view them as a painful reminder of Tokyo’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including a brutal 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula.
Abe, who was expected to stay away from the shrine Thursday but who reportedly sent a ritual offering via an aide, added in his speech that Japan would do its “utmost” to ensure “permanent world peace”.
Security was tight with hundreds of police surrounding the leafy shrine in the heart of Tokyo, as right-wing nationalists carried flags calling on visitors to pray for Japan’s “heroic war dead”.
Yoshitaka Shindo, internal affairs and communications minister in Abe’s cabinet, made an early morning visit followed by about 90 other lawmakers later in the morning.