Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, moving to quiet an international storm over his remark that Japan may not have been the aggressor in World War II, apologized and reversed his statement in Parliament today.
"I feel sorry for having invited criticism from foreign countries," Takeshita said in answer to a question from an opposition party member in a budget committee meeting. "I could not express myself satisfactorily."
Takeshita told the Diet on Feb. 18 that it was "the historian's task in later ages to form a conclusion whether it was or was not a war of aggression."
The remark immediately drew criticism from the Soviet Union, China and North and South Korea.
Takeshita reversed the controversial statement today, saying, "I think the aggressive nature of such actions of our country cannot be denied."
Takeshita's apology came three days after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in which Qian told Takeshita that full normalization of Sino-Japanese relations could hinge on Japan acknowledging its responsibility for World War II.
Qian suggested to Takeshita that relations between the two Asian giants would not significantly improve unless "the two countries understand history correctly and look to the future."
More than 20 million Chinese died in the Sino-Japanese war that had its roots in Japan's conquest of northeastern China in 1931 and lasted until 1945.
Japanese history textbooks continue to refer to the war as an "advance."
Many Japanese, including some senior politicians, defend the righteousness of the war, arguing that Japan was attempting to free Asia from Western imperialism and was forced into battle because of its need for markets and resources.