Japan's deputy prime minister has retracted controversial remarks in which he suggested Tokyo could learn a lesson from Nazi Germany in amending the Asian country's pacifist constitution.
Taro Aso said Thursday it is "regrettable" his remarks "led to a misunderstanding," assuring reporters that he holds an "extremely negative view" of the Nazi government.
Aso, who is also finance minister, said during a Monday speech Japan could "learn from the tactics" of the Nazis, whom he said were able to change the German constitution "before anyone knew."
The comment was widely criticized by Japan's neighbors and some human rights groups.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights group, released a statement saying there are no positive lessons to be learned from the Nazi government, which it said "brought the world to abyss" during World War II.
South Korea and China, which bore the brunt of Japan's pre-war colonial aggression, also strongly condemned the remarks. Beijing's foreign ministry called the comments alarming, urging Japan to "reflect on its history." Seoul's foreign ministry said the statement "obviously hurt many people."
The conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, has distanced itself from Aso's comments. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday the Abe government has "never viewed the Nazi regime positively."
"I believe the original intention of his comment was to say that the review of the constitution should be conducted in a calm manner, but the example used caused misunderstandings," Suga said.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is trying to revise or reinterpret Japan's United States-imposed, World War II-era pacifist constitution, which allows the use of arms only in case of an attack on its territory.
The initiative has angered China and South Korea, which have already expressed concern at Abe's hawkish stance on Japan's long-standing territorial disputes with both countries.
Seoul and Beijing have also criticized Tokyo officials for repeatedly visiting a controversial Tokyo war shrine that pays homage to Japan's war dead, including some convicted war criminals. They say such visits show Japan is non-apologetic about and has not dealt with its colonial past.