January 24, 2014 4:27 am JST

Japan tries to clear air on Abe's 1914 comparison

TOKYO -- Japan's government sought to clarify comments by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that, to some Western media, drew disturbing parallels between the current Sino-Japanese tensions and relations between Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I.

     The Financial Times reported that Abe said on Wednesday that Japan and China are in a "similar situation" to the two European powers in the lead-up to the Great War.

     "The prime minister meant to say that something like WWI must never be allowed to happen," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, told a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday.

     The remarks in question came at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Abe spoke forcefully about his economic agenda but seemed to encounter as much interest in his visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine last month, which riled China and South Korea because the place honors Japan's fallen soldiers, including war criminals.

      In a question-and-answer session Wednesday with the forum's founder, Klaus Schwab, Abe said he made a vow of peace at the shrine.

     "I had no intention whatsoever to hurt the feelings of people in China and Korea," Abe said.

      At a meeting with international journalists the same day, Abe was asked about the possibility of a war between China and Japan. The prime minister noted that WWI broke out 100 years ago in spite of the manifold economic ties between Britain and Germany. A situation like the one mentioned would do great harm not only to Japan and China but to the entire world, Abe said.

     Some foreign commentators chose to focus on what Abe did not say.

     "The most disturbing thing is that he ... clearly did not rule out the possibility of a conflict with China," the Financial Times' Martin Wolf reported from the forum.

      Wolf called this "far and away the most disturbing experience I have had in Davos in years."

      The BBC's Robert Peston wrote that Abe "recognizes that -- just like Britain and Germany in 1914 -- Japan and China are interdependent economies." While others have said the same thing, "it has more impact ... when said by Japan's leader," Peston went on.

     Separately, Abe wrote a message for Chinese-language newspapers in Japan on Thursday arguing that Japan "has walked with devotion the path of peace for 68 years." Japan and China "must join hands to fulfill our responsibilities for the advancement of the region and the international community," the prime minister also wrote.