(CNN) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday expressed “profound grief” for the millions killed in World War II and remorse for his country’s participation, but said that future Japanese generations shouldn’t need to keep apologizing.
Abe, in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, gave no new apology. But he acknowledged previous ones and said Japan must keep resolving to never again use force to settle international disputes.
“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” Abe said, adding the country “engraved in our hearts” the suffering of Japan’s Asian neighbors through its actions, including China, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines.
But, Abe said, postwar generations now exceed 80% of Japan’s population.
“We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” Abe said at his official residence in Tokyo.
“Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.”
Some previous Japanese prime ministers have personally apologized for Japan’s actions in the war, including for using Korean women as “comfort women,” or sex slaves, for the Japanese military.
Abe hinted at this, saying Japan needed to remember the “women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” He said Japan will help make this century one in which “women’s human rights are not infringed upon.”
Japan has had a pacifist stance after the war, deploying troops only in humanitarian roles. While Abe on Friday distanced Japan from wars of aggression, he has backed legislation that would allow for a more active role for Japanese troops overseas, including involvement in the defense of its allies.
CNN’s Junko Ogura and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.