TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may want to emphasize the future, but the U.S., China and South Korea have their own ideas about what he should say on the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
Worried about historical resentment between Japan and its East Asian neighbors, Washington is nudging Abe to hew to past Japanese declarations expressing remorse for colonizing Korea and invading China.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki weighed in on the matter Monday after Abe spoke about his plans for the statement in a New Year's news conference.
"Our view is that the apologies extended by previous Prime Minister [Tomiichi] Murayama and former Chief Cabinet Secretary [Yohei] Kono marked important chapters in Japan's efforts to improve relations with its neighbors," Psaki told reporters.
With its diplomatic resources already stretched thin, the U.S. wants Japan to avoid needless friction with South Korea and China. Many in President Barack Obama's administration will no doubt recall how Abe's December 2013 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors soldiers killed in wars, including war criminals, riled both countries.
Obama's strategic "pivot" toward Asia, meant to contain China and get it to play by international rules, is predicated on stronger cooperation between the U.S. and East Asian allies. If Japan and South Korea remain riven by animosity, American interests could suffer. Obama wants to spend his final two years in office working on his legacy, not refereeing a fight sparked by Abe's speech.
Beijing and Seoul, naturally, are also concerned about what Abe will say. China will "follow closely what attitude the Japanese government and leaders take when it comes to [Japan's] history of aggression and what message they want to send," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters Tuesday.
"It is hoped that the Japanese side could honor the [Murayama] statement and commitment it has made on historical issues," Hong added.
South Korea "hopes that the Japanese government will uphold the statements issued by former Japanese administrations, take sincere actions based on a correct view of history, and thereby win trust from its neighboring countries and the rest of the international community," foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said Tuesday.
Abe, for his part, told cabinet and ruling bloc officials Tuesday that he intends to send a "message to the world" about Japan's soul-searching after the war, its progress as a peaceful nation, and how it can contribute to the international community.
Abe will deliver "a statement that looks to the future" while affirming past cabinets' views on history, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
The prime minister intends to commission an expert panel to offer advice on the text. In doing so, he will try to "strike a balance" in his selections "to avoid a foregone conclusion," a senior government official said.
Many lawmakers close to Abe say he does not mean the statement to be an apology to China or South Korea. Indeed, the prime minister is also under domestic pressure: showing too much deference to Beijing and Seoul may offend his conservative base.