TOKYO — Wading directly into the most sensitive issues of shared history, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned Japanese lawmakers today to stick to previously expressed apologies for their "war of aggression" against China, or risk shattering prospects for a peaceful and prosperous future.
"Japan's invasions were a great catastrophe for the Chinese, causing tremendous death and injury and enormous damage," Wen told a silent Japanese parliament in a speech televised live across Japan. "No words can describe the deep scars left in the hearts of the Chinese people."
Wen's speech was a centerpiece of a three-day visit to Japan, the first by a Chinese premier since 2000. He uttered few formalities before delivering his straightforward message about the importance of facing up to the bloody and contentious history between the two countries.
The premier noted that the Chinese blame the war on a cabal of Japanese militarists, not the Japanese people, who he said were also victims.
But subsequent generations of Japanese leaders "publicly admitted aggression and showed deep remorse and apology to victimized countries," he said, adding that China expects the current leadership to stand by those apologies and to turn them "into concrete actions."
That statement appeared to signal to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that China considers the Yasukuni war shrine to be the indicator of Japanese intentions. The shrine commemorates Japan's war dead, including those executed as war criminals after 1945. China had frozen top-level meetings between the two governments after Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, made the first of what would become annual pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe was an ardent supporter of Koizumi's visits but has refrained from following suit since becoming prime minister in September. He has refused to say, however, whether he plans to visit.
But Abe and many of his strongest supporters are also committed to recasting the record of Japan's wartime conduct by tempering the focus on atrocities such as the forcing of women into prostitution. That revisionist approach raises suspicion in Asia and the West about the sincerity of Japan's remorse for its past, particularly as Abe takes steps to amend the pacifist clause in the nation's postwar constitution.
The Japanese prime minister received a preview of Wen's stance when the two leaders met Wednesday night. Though Wen never mentioned Yasukuni or the so-called comfort women specifically, he told Abe that "coping with history" was central to the warming relations between East Asia's two biggest economic and military powers.
Abe replied that Japan "steadfastly follows the path of a peaceful country," said officials in the prime minister's office.
This week's summit was designed to add momentum to the diplomatic revival that followed Abe's icebreaking visit to Beijing in October in one of his first acts as prime minister. The summit focused on areas in which there was already a consensus for cooperation, producing communiques on energy and the environment.
Japanese officials said they were particularly pleased to have secured a pledge from the Chinese to join in building a protocol for controlling carbon emissions that would succeed the 1997 Kyoto agreement, to which Beijing is not a signatory.
The two sides also agreed to establish a communications link between their military establishments to prevent small incidents, such as submarine incursions into one another's territory, from escalating into a crisis.
Other differences remain. The leaders said they would push to speed up a framework for joint development of underwater energy deposits in the East China Sea, an interim step that would allow resource development to proceed while the broader territorial disputes are worked out.
And Wen politely refused to endorse Abe's request that he take "a bold decision" to endorse Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.