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Japanese leader Shinzo Abe voices 'profound grief' for Second World War dead

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has expressed "profound grief" for all who died in the Second World War in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the country's surrender.

In a statement delivered live on national television, Mr Abe acknowledged that Japan inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people in the war, and apologised for Japan's actions.

The statement was closely watched by Japan's neighbours, especially South Korea and China. Resentment over invasion, occupation and atrocities by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during the war still hampers relations between Japan and many east Asian countries decades after the war ended with the 1945 surrender.

Mr Abe said Japan must face its history squarely, but that future generations should not have to continue apologising.

Mr Abe said: "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."

China's official Xinhua News Agency called Japan's statement a diluted apology at best, and "a crippled start to build trust among its neighbours".

"Abe trod a fine line with linguistic tricks, attempting to please his right-wing base on the one hand and avoid further damage in Japan's ties with its neighbours on the other," it said.

Mr Abe noted that more than 80% of Japan's population was born after the war, and echoed growing though not universal sentiment in Japan that the country has apologised enough.

"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.

But he said Japan took the wrong course in going to war and that, across generations, Japanese must squarely face their country's past.

"We have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in south-east Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others," he said.

While pledging that Japan would remain peaceful, he used the speech to make veiled criticism of China's activities in disputed waters in the region.

China has been reclaiming land and erecting structures on South China Sea atolls that are claimed by the Philippines and other countries. In the East China Sea, Japan objects to Chinese aerial and marine patrols around islands that both countries claim.

Noting Japan's constitutional pledge not to resort to force to settle international disputes, Mr Abe said any disputes must be settled diplomatically based on the rule of law.

Speaking to reporters after the statement, he added: "Any attempt to change the status quo by force should not be tolerated. I believe conveying our lessons learned from our history 70 years ago would be useful not only to Japan but also for the rest of the world."

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