In a policy speech, and in unusual messages to Asian leaders, Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata on Tuesday renewed "the recognition that Japan's past actions, including acts of aggression and colonialism, caused unbearable suffering and sorrow for many people."
Hata made the declaration in the aftermath of statements by his ousted justice minister, Shigeto Nagano, who denied past Japanese aggression and described a major atrocity Japanese soldiers committed in 1937 in China as a "fabrication."
In both the speech--his first to Parliament since he was elected prime minister April 25--and the special messages, Hata promised to convey to future generations of Japanese the recognition of the nation's past misdeeds.
"Based on its deep remorse, Japan will do its utmost to create peace and a bright future for the Asia-Pacific region," he added, declaring that his statement would constitute the "political creed of the new Cabinet."
"The pain and anger of peoples of neighboring countries caused by the recent remarks of a Cabinet minister shows . . . that Japan's past actions have left great scars which remain even today," he said.
Foreign Minister Koji Kakizawa said Hata dispatched a special letter to Chinese Premier Li Peng, telephoned South Korean President Kim Young Sam and had Japanese diplomatic missions deliver messages to other Asian leaders.
Apparently for foreign consumption, official translators subtly strengthened Hata's main remark. Where the English translation had Hata condemning "aggression and colonialism" in his speech, in Japanese he said "acts of aggression and colonialism."
That phrasing stops short of describing Japan's entire war as aggression--as ex-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa characterized it in an August news conference.
Referring to a Socialist walkout from his coalition, which left his government without a majority in either house of Parliament, Hata said he wanted to add "cooperation" to "reform" as a second pillar of his minority government.
He also took note of predictions that his administration may soon face a test at the polls. A bill to establish the boundaries of 300 new single-seat districts for the lower house will be submitted as soon as possible "so that the next general election can be held under the new system," he said.
Without the establishment of new districts, any election that Hata might be forced to call by a vote of no confidence would be carried out under the old system, in which voters choose an average of four representatives from each district.
On economic issues, Hata added a tone of concern that Hosokawa had not shown before resigning over suspicions involving his personal finances.
"The Japanese economy has experienced sufferings previously unknown and has gone even to the point of shaking our confidence about future prospects," Hata said.
He also called a prolonged delay in enacting the 1994 budget "alarming" and promised to tackle "serious economic issues (that) remain unresolved between Japan and the United States."
While insisting that Japan's large surpluses were built upon "the untiring efforts of the people within the rules of international free trade," Hata acknowledged that Japan's continuing black ink "cannot but invite the criticism of its trading partners."
"We must change our way of thinking . . . to achieve a phased reduction of the current account surplus (and) to change Japan's economic structure so that it is internationally harmonious," he said.
Hata said Japan "tended to be an onlooker to developments of the international community" during the Cold War. Now, he said, "Japan needs to move to center stage, play an active role for world peace and prosperity and earn the trust of the international community."