A Cabinet minister whose claim that Japan was not the aggressor in World War II provoked strong protests from China and other Asian nations told Parliament Wednesday the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese War began accidentally.
The minister, Seisuke Okuno, told Japanese reporters this week that he doesn't like to use the word "invasion" when discussing the Sino-Japanese War because both countries lost millions of people in the conflict.Japanese troops overran much of eastern China in the war.
Opposition parties have demanded the dismissal of the Okuno, director of the National Land Agency, and called on the administration of Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita to take responsibility for his remarks.
Okuno has angered China and other Asian nations over the past month by saying - most recently on Monday - that Japan had no aggressive intent during World War II and had "fought to protect itself at a time when the white race had turned Asia into a colony."
China's Foreign Ministry said Okuno's views had caused alarm worldwide.
"The repeated occurrence of such expressions . . . in Japan . . . shows there are indeed some people in Japan, even some people who are cabinet ministers, who have no intention at all for introspection of the past war of aggression," ministry spokesman Li Zhaoxing said at a weekly briefing in Beijing. "This cannot but alarm all the peace-loving peoples and countries in the world."
Asked in Parliament today about Okuno's comments, Takeshita said: "Our country feels deep responsibility for the grave damage Japan inflicted on the Chinese people during the past war. We believe the government should fully recognize that our country's actions during the war have been criticized severely as aggression." But he stopped short of saying he agreed that Japan's actions had been aggressive.
During a Diet (parliament) session today, Okuno said he thought the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge incident, generally believed to have caused the Sino-Japanese War, had occurred by accident.
In comments last month that he reiterated Monday, Okuno also said Japan should not let the views of Asian neighbors stop Cabinet members from visiting a controversial Shinto shrine that honors Japan's war dead.
Last month, China's Foreign Ministry called Okuno's statements "astonishing and very regrettable." During a visit to China last week, Japanese Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno reportedly sought to smooth Chinese irritations over the remarks.
Meanwhile, the Japan Socialist Party and Komeito (Clean Government Party) began preparing a resolution calling for Okuno's dismissal. Another opposition party, the Japan Communist Party, decided on Tuesday it would demand Okuno's dismissal, news reports said.
In the 1937 incident at Marco Polo Bridge, 12 miles west of Beijing, Japanese troops in the area under a 1901 protocol said they heard shots while on routine maneuvers nearby.
After reportedly finding one soldier missing in a roll call, they began fighting Chinese troops who were guarding a nearby town. Several days later, Japan poured more troops into China and hostilities increased.
In recent years, Asian countries have frequently criticized Japanese views of its military past.
In 1986, Education Minister Masayuki Fujio, a member of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's Cabinet, was dismissed after saying Korea was partly responsible for its annexation by Japan in 1910, and that Japan's actions against China in World War II were justifiable.
The remarks brought strong protests from other Asian nations.
Japan's Asian neighbors also have complained about the government's approval of a school history textbook in 1986 that they said whitewashed Japan's role during the war, and its censorship of other textbooks that portrayed Japan's military role in a negative light.
An official visit in 1985 by Nakasone to Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead are enshrined, also drew sharp criticism from countries such as China, which said it offended those who suffered in the war.