IT is only natural that many in Asia should feel so cynical about Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's belated apology for the atrocities Japan committed during World War II. The contrition is late - 50 years late, to be precise. Its initially unequivocal nature, in a press conference at Mr Murayama's personal residence, was marred by his subsequent refusal to repeat the apology during the official ceremony to mark the war's end. Worse still, it was accompanied by a rejection of reopening discussions on compensation for war victims - a matter of considerable concern in Hong Kong where many still seek refunds for the worthless wartime bonds they were forced to buy during the Japanese occupation. Yet, for all that, Mr Murayama deserves to be congratulated on being brave enough to do what none of his predecessors has dared do. While the shortcomings in his apology should be noted, it is at least as important to remember the domestic political considerations that limited his room for manoeuvre. This controversy has helped bring down Japanese governments in the past and Mr Murayama's action will have weakened his own position, even exposing him to attack from cabinet hardliners on the issue, such as trade minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who some see as the country's next Prime Minister. So the interests of those who believe Japan has not done enough to express remorse are best served in strengthening Mr Murayama's domestic stature, by showing the world recognises the significance of what he has done, rather than pursuing the policy of using his apology as a weapon to attack Tokyo over the continuing refusal to pay compensation. But such restraint will only be possible if Mr Murayama makes clear his statement is only part of a continuing process, the next step in which should be to rewrite the history textbooks so that Japanese children at last learn the truth about the evil deeds their Prime Minister has apologised for.