Japan's Prime Minister has smoothed the troubled relations between Tokyo and Beijing with an apology for Japan's wartime aggression in China. The improved ties may help Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi win Beijing's grudging acceptance of an expanded military role for Tokyo in the fight against terrorism.
China's President, Jiang Zemin, said the Japanese Prime Minister's visit improved the tense ties between the neighbors, but warned Japan, as he put it, that "Asian people are very sensitive to Japan's possible repetition of its aggressive history."
Before the visit, Mr. Koizumi had stoked Beijing's concerns about possible remilitarization, by pushing lawmakers to allow Japan's military to give limited support to the U.S. led fight against terrorism.
The controversial legislation would give non-combat help to U.S. and other forces. Japan's post World War II constitution bans military action except in defense of the country's borders.
Expansion of Japan's military role alarms its Asian neighbors, who suffered at the hands of Japanese troops before and during World War II.
In an effort to calm such concerns, Mr. Koizumi visited the Marco Polo bridge near Beijing, where Japanese forces used an exchange of gunfire with local Chinese troops as an excuse to invade China in 1937. After visiting a nearby museum dedicated to China's struggle against Japan, he said the exhibits made him feel again the "horrors of war" and said "we must not go to war again."
Mr. Koizumi also said he regrets the lives lost due to the Japanese invasion of China and expressed his heartfelt apology and condolences to the Chinese people.
Mr. Koizumi is the second Japanese Prime Minister to visit the site and his apology was similar to one offered in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Japan's relations with China were strained in August when Prime Minister Koizumi visited a shrine to Japan's war dead, including some judged to be war criminals. Relations were further strained when Japan's government approved textbooks that critics say minimize Japan's wartime atrocities in China and Korea.
On October 15 Mr. Kiozumi is scheduled to make a similar visit to South Korea, another Asian neighbor whose relations with Tokyo are colored by memories of Japanese occupation.