TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan stands by previous government statements acknowledging and apologizing for its aggression in World War Two, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday as tension mounts again with China.
China's ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing considers Tokyo's failure to atone for its brutal occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two and what it sees as whitewashing of events such as the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in school textbooks.
"The Abe government is firmly upholding views on history held by prior governments," Kishida told reporters, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when asked about Japan's stance on its war-time history.
"We have already explained this. But I believe we need to continue explaining firmly, carefully and repeatedly."
Deteriorating relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been fuelled by a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising fears of a clash.
Ties have deteriorated further since China's creation of an air defense identification zone and Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine honoring war criminals among the war dead.
A 1995 statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two, said Japan "caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations".
In 1993, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono put his name to a statement apologizing for the involvement of Japan's military in forcing "comfort women", as they are known in Japan, to work in wartime brothels. Most of the women were Asian, many Korean.
Beijing has stepped up its efforts to convince the outside world, especially the West, that Japan is not sincere at facing up to its wartime past and remains a threat to regional peace.
"Some might ask what is the significance of Abe visiting a shrine with 14 Class A war criminals," said Xiao Jingquan, former curator of a memorial hall in Pingdingshan in northeastern China where Japanese troops killed hundreds of villagers in 1932.
"This is an affront to the shared interests and wellbeing of the human race. Of course we oppose this," Xiao told foreign reporters on a government-organized trip to sites of Japanese atrocities in northeastern China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Friday China was "gravely concerned" about reports Japan was seeking to revise history textbooks, a sensitive issue as China says such books do not accurately reflect what happened in the war.
"The issue of Japanese textbooks in substance is about what kind of historical perspective Japan wants to teach its next generation, and whether it will respect historical facts and reflect on its invasion crimes," Hong said.
"The Nanjing Massacre and the forced use of comfort woman are serious crimes against humanity from Japanese militarism of the World War Two period. The facts cannot be denied and history cannot be revised."
China consistently reminds its people of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in which China says Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in the then national capital.
A postwar Allied tribunal put the death toll at 142,000, but some conservative Japanese politicians and scholars deny a massacre took place.
Japan's Education Ministry has revised its modern history textbook approval standards, requiring that they respect the government stance, Kyodo news agency reported on Friday.
Kyodo said the changes were made at the request of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which believes accounts of the Nanjing Massacre and the comfort women are biased. It did not say how.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Michael Martina in Beijing and Megha Rajagopalan in PINGDINGSHAN, China; Editing by Nick Macfie)