A noted political and diplomatic scholar who has been widely considered a close adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a surprising stance.

Shinichi Kitaoka, president of International University of Japan and an expert on Japanese diplomatic and political history, wants Abe to acknowledge what the nationalist leader apparently does not want to clearly admit in public: that Japan fought “a war of aggression” against China in the 1930s and ’40s.

“Japan fought a war of aggression. It did really dreadful things. It’s clear,” Kitaoka told a symposium in Tokyo on Monday, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“I want Mr. Abe to say, ‘Japan committed aggression (against China),” he was quoted as saying.

Kitaoka is the deputy chief of the 16-member panel advising Abe on his statement for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which is to be issued this summer.

The panel is expected to give Abe a report on what he should mention in the statement. However, the report will only be considered a “reference” for Abe’s use when drafting the statement.

Kitaoka was also a key member of another panel last year that recommended Abe reinterpret the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack even when Japan itself is not. This is one reason he is considered a close Abe adviser.

At a news conference Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on Kitaoka’s statements, saying the administration will not comment on remarks by individual members of the advisory panel.

“We’d like to keep watching the discussions” at the panel, he said.

In April last year, Abe told the Diet he does not uphold all of the landmark apology issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 and argued that what is described as aggression “can be viewed differently” depending on which side one is on.

Abe also claimed that the definition of “aggression” has yet to be established either among academics or by the international community, causing an uproar at home and abroad.

In the face of heavy criticism, both Abe and Suga claimed the administration has never denied “the fact of aggression,” and said they uphold the Murayama statement “as a whole.”

Until Murayama, few of Japan’s top leaders had officially admitted that Japan waged wars of aggression, including one against China, in the 1930s and 1940s.

Some nationalistic politicians and citizens have claimed that Japan fought “wars of self-defense” rather than aggression. They are considered Abe’s most ardent supporters.

In his 1995 statement, Murayama straightforwardly admitted that Japan “caused tremendous damage and suffering” to people in many countries “through its colonial rule and aggression.”

Abe is widely viewed in the rest of Asia as a history revisionist, though he denies it. There is keen attention both at home and overseas on whether he will water down the apologetic tone of the Murayama statement during the war anniversary this summer by avoiding its key words and phrases, such as “colonial rule and aggression” and “deep remorse.”

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