Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet will maintain the Diet-endorsed 1995 apology issued by then-Prime Minister Tomoiichi Murayama over Japan’s wartime aggression, but offer a separate “future-oriented” statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a group of reporters Friday.

Many observers were watching to see if the hawkish Abe may try to revise or water down Murayama’s straightforward apology issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

During an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets, Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, said the Abe administration intends to uphold the Murayama statement.

“At the same time, we’d like to consider issuing a statement that will suit the 21st century,” Suga said, adding such a future-oriented statement “is necessary, given the peace and stable economy in Asia.” Suga also said the Abe administration plans to set up an advisory panel to look into Japan’s exercise of its right to collective self-defense.

Suga said, without elaborating, that any new written statement by Abe, if issued, won’t supersede the Murayama declaration but will be a separate remark. It was not clear if Abe’s statement would touch on Japan’s wartime history.

Suga meanwhile said he will invite other historians to study issues related to the 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who admitted the wartime Japanese government and military were responsible for forcing women and girls into sexual slavery at Japanese military in frontline brothels. The females are euphemistically referred to in Japan as the “comfort women.”

Abe and some right-leaning politicians have tried to play down the responsibility of the government and military, saying no historical documents have been found to prove that Japanese authorities “forcibly recruited,” or for instance, kidnapped, those females during wartime.

During September’s party presidential race, Abe initially indicated he might revise the Kono statement if he became prime minister, but recently has toned this down and has only said he will consult historians.

The Abe Cabinet’s pragmatic stance was also clear in the latest statement over South Korea’s deportation of a Chinese man suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the wall of Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. He had been charged with also committing a similar act against the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and Tokyo had failed in its demand for his extradition.

Earlier Friday, Tokyo protested Seoul’s move to send the man back to China.

Suga meanwhile said South Korea is “a very important neighbor” and Tokyo will try to “build a bilateral relationship of mutual trust” despite recent diplomatic rows.

In 1995, Murayama apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression, and since then the remark has been officially upheld by all subsequent administrations.

“During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war . . . (and) through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations,” Murayama said in the statement.

“In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history,” Murayama said.