BEIJING, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday expressed "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" for Koreans' suffering under his country's 1910-1945 colonial rule.
The remarks, delivered ahead of the Aug. 29 centenary of Japan's annexation of the Korean Peninsula, is basically in line with a landmark statement by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995.
Fifty years after Japan's surrender and the end of World War Two, Murayama extended his country's first official apology for Japan's aggression toward Asian countries, which has defined the tone of all the succeeding Japanese governments on issues related to that period in history.
What makes Kan's statement different is that he directed his apology to a particular country, namely South Korea, pledged to return some cultural artifacts plundered by then Japanese rulers, and accentuated his call for a "future-oriented" relationship with South Korea.
Such a stance stems from the new domestic political landscape in the East Asian country as well as its practical diplomatic interests.
Kan led his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to power in last September following a historic election victory that ended 50 years of conservative rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.
As the DPJ embraces a relatively liberal attitude toward historical issues, and its control of the government is adequately strong enough against conservative meddling, the political scenario may help pave the way for Japan to break away from its conservative handling of historical affairs.
Meanwhile, in synch with the rapid growth in economic strength and political power of Asian nations on the world stage in recent years, the ruling DPJ has attached increasing importance to mending fences with Japan's neighbors. Inevitably, reaching "historical reconciliation" has become one of Japan's diplomatic priorities.
However, the call for "historical reconciliation" must be backed up with concrete action. Many Koreans still remember that just two months after his unprecedented apology, Murayama claimed that the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was legal, an assertion that deeply disappointed the Koreans.