Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has offered a personal apology for Japan's wartime atrocities in China and blamed tensions in the East China Sea on Tokyo.
He also departed from the view of Japan's political establishment by criticising Tokyo's dependence on the US.
Hatoyama made the remarks at a speech delivered at the City University of Hong Kong yesterday. Commenting on his visit this year to the memorial hall dedicated to victims of the massacre in Nanjing, the former prime minister said what Japanese troops did during the Nanjing massacre was not acceptable.
"As a Japanese citizen, I feel that it's my duty to apologise for even just one Chinese civilian killed brutally by Japanese soldiers and that such action cannot be excused by saying that it occurred during war," he said.
Hatoyama, 66, stirred controversy earlier this year when he told Chinese media that territorial sovereignty over the East China Sea was disputed, even though the Japanese government insists there are no disputes over the islands known as Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan. His remarks prompted Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera to label him a "traitor".
Yesterday, Hatoyama said tensions over the East China Sea were a result of "signals sent to China by Japan". He did not elaborate on these "signals" but earlier this year he told Phoenix TV that it was "unavoidable that the Chinese side thinks Japan stole" the islands, a remark that Tokyo described as "outrageous".
Hatoyama, of the Democratic Party of Japan, now in opposition, criticised the Japan administration for complicating strained relations between the two Asian powers by enhancing ties with the US.
"Instead of trying to resolve the issue by sitting down with China, the current administration makes it very difficult; they move the relationship closer to the United States," he said.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asia Studies at Temple University in Japan, said the mainstream view in Japan was that China was to blame for tensions in the East China Sea. "There are many Japanese who do recognise war responsibility, but given the spiralling down of bilateral relations, many Japanese feel threatened by China, [and] his remarks seem overly positive," Kingston said.