• Reuters

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South Korea and China have warned Japan not to backtrack on an apology issued 20 years ago over its wartime past when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Japan’s ties with South Korea and China have deteriorated in recent years as Abe has adopted a conservative agenda, including a less apologetic tone on the country’s wartime past and measures to bolster Japan’s global security role.

In a television interview on Sunday, the prime minister indicated that he would express remorse for Japan’s role in the war in the upcoming statement, and said his Cabinet upholds past apologies, including the landmark 1995 statement by former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama. Abe suggested, however, that he would not stick with the original wording.

“I would like to issue a statement with the focus not on whether the same terms will be used but on the Abe government’s thought on the occasion,” he told public broadcaster NHK over the weekend.

The anniversary of Japan’s defeat falls on Aug. 15, but no date has yet been set for the release of Abe’s statement.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il has already accused Japan of trying to “undermine” a separate 1993 apology by ex-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to Asian women who were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military during the war.

The Japanese government must remember “the historic significance of every single passage” used in past apologies by former leaders, Noh told a news briefing on Tuesday.

“It should reflect carefully, looking squarely at history how the international community and neighboring countries will react if it takes key parts out from statements by Murayama on the 50th anniversary and Junichiro Koizumi on the 60th.”

Koizumi issued a similar statement in 2005 when he was prime minister.

Noh added that Japan should take lessons from the consistent position of remorse and responsibility taken by German leaders over their country’s Nazi past.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday that Beijing was concerned about “what type of attitude the Japanese government and leaders adopt with respect to the past period of aggression and the type of information it sends out to the outside world.”

“Will it play down the history of aggression and continue to carry that negative asset? Or will it show profound and sincere remorse over its history of invasions and travel lightly forward? The international community waits and sees,” she told a media briefing in Beijing.

Abe has questioned the 1993 Kono statement in the past, and in what many saw as a nod to his conservative base, asked a panel of experts to review it.

Mindful of the potential diplomatic fallout, he later said he would not revise it.

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