Regional players in the Asia-Pacific have shown sound judgment in keeping a close eye on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's latest plan for a sensitive statement on historical and defense issues.
Observers said if Abe's revision plan defies his predecessors' previous comments on Japan's military past, it may "fuel further instabilities" in the region despite his recent pragmatic diplomacy gestures to ease tensions with neighbors.
On Friday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe's government may release a statement about the country's World War II historical perspective, Japan's Kyodo News Agency said.
The Japanese government's top spokesman claimed that the revision will stick to a 1995 statement issued by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, which expressed Japan's "deep remorse" and offered a "heartfelt apology" for its aggression in China and colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula in the past century.
But a detailed position has not been made regarding the famous statement of then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, which apologized for the use of "comfort women".
Tokyo's ties with Beijing and Seoul have long been overshadowed by the issue of "comfort women", or sex slaves, during World War II.
Wang Ping, a researcher of Japanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe's ambiguity over his upcoming statement shows his obvious, but wavering, intention of tweaking the official stance on the sensitive issues.
The Japanese ruling cabinet is willing to set up an advisory panel to pave the way for the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense, a key policy goal of Abe, who is known as a security hawk, Kyodo said.
"The latest vagueness of his plan will prompt more tense nerves from Japan's neighbors over the country's possible plan to seek a gradual denial of their militarist past and, more important, the expansion of armed forces," Wang said.
On Friday, Beijing responded to speculation about Abe's possible revisionist plan and said the Murayama statement was a solemn promise by the Japanese government to the victims in Asian countries during the war.
On Friday, Abe sent his party's former finance minister to Seoul as an envoy to express goodwill and improve ties that have been soured by the country's territorial dispute with South Korea and Japan's stance on historical issues.
Yet South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye was cautious in her reply and urged Tokyo to "directly face up to" the historical issues affecting both countries, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported.
During his election campaign ahead of a landslide victory in December, Abe took a radical tone toward diplomatic and defense policy, vowing to increase defense spending and loosen a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military.
The New York Times, in an editorial published on Thursday, noted Abe's ongoing desire to rewrite military history.
The editorial warned of the possible impact to the regional situation, and referred to Japan's "shameful impulses" to try to deny the past, which may hurt the feelings of World War II victims in China and South Korea.
However, Abe has been backed by the Japanese public's majority support to boost the US-Japan alliance to curb China's rise, said Feng Wei, an expert on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
According to a public poll released by Japan's Nikkei Business Daily on Tuesday, 75.9 percent of Japanese wish to enhance the traditional alliance to rein in China.
Analysts said Abe cabinet's eagerness to seek a closer US-Japan alliance has prompted fear in Washington they are getting too close, and "being hijacked" by possible frictions in the region.
The White House also demonstrated hesitation over Abe's previous high-profile plan to visit Washington as his first official visit abroad in January.
Japanese media reports said Abe's office has been preparing to postpone the visit to February, as Washington has had no time available this month.
"Tokyo has long hoped for Washington's clear position to back the country if a major conflict breaks out over the territorial dispute of the Diaoyu Islands," said Tao Wenzhao, a professor of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Yet US President Barack Obama, in his second term, will proceed with his strategy of pivoting to Asia, and Japan is expected to shoulder a greater burden in defense deployment in the region, Tao added.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org