Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has apologized before officials of Asian and African countries for crimes committed by the Japanese Army before and during the Second World War. Mr. Koizumi made the apology in an attempt to defuse tensions with China, where there is widespread anger over Japanese history textbooks the Chinese feel give insufficient recognition to Japan's colonial-era and wartime atrocities.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in cities across China over the past three weeks, protesting what they see as Japan's continued unwillingness to face up to crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in the early 20th Century.
The Japanese prime minister made a very public apology for those abuses in Jakarta Friday, at the Asian-African summit. Despite the audience before him, Mr. Koizumi was aiming his remarks squarely at the people of China and their president, Hu Jintao.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Koizumi echoed an apology made by one of his predecessors 10 years ago: "In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility and with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind."
The apology seems to have worked. President Hu, also attending the summit, has ended days of speculation by agreeing to meet Mr. Koizumi to discuss the two countries' differences.
Mr. Koizumi told reporters after his speech that the meeting is due to take place Saturday.
The controversy over the Japanese textbooks acted as a catalyst to reignite many long-standing points of contention between China and Japan, including territorial disputes and Tokyo's recent bid to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The dispute, and speculation over whether the two leaders would meet, had overshadowed preparations for the summit meeting. But the organizers have downplayed its effects on moves to bring the two continents into greater cooperation, saying part of the reason for having summits is to solve problems like this.
Q: Tim, is this apology by Mr. Koizumi something new?
A: There's nothing really new to it. Japan has apologized to varying degrees before this. In 1995, for example, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama officially apologized for Japan's colonization of other Asian countries, and for its army's crimes throughout the first half of the 20th Century.
Mr. Koizumi repeated the apology in hopes of cooling down the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment that's been sweeping China. In the past, the Communist Party has not allowed previous Japanese apologies to be carried by the Chinese news media. It will be interesting to see if this time, the Party lets the word get out.