Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi asserted yesterday that Japan has reflected on its militaristic past and is now a peace-loving country, countering claims by China and South Korea that it hasn't properly atoned for wartime atrocities.
Addressing supporters at the annual convention of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Tokyo, Koizumi also vowed to speed up fiscal and structural reforms as "a major mandate" of the LDP this year.
"In its path to a modern nation, Japan experienced war," Koizumi told LDP lawmakers and party representatives from all of Japan's 47 prefectures.
"But in the 60 years since [World War II], we have built a prosperous nation based on a reflection of that war," he said.
Koizumi has come under intense criticism from China and South Korea for his visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honors executed war criminals along with 2.5 million war dead.
His latest visit last October sparked outrage in the two countries, where many believe Japan has never truly shown remorse for offenses committed during its rampage through Asia that culminated in World War II.
Still, in a statement released by the LDP at the convention, the party promised to "strengthen stable and cooperative relations with Asian countries" as well as cement Japan's alliance with the US.
Koizumi, who has repeatedly indicated he will step down when his term ends in September, also said he would work to speed up fiscal and structural reforms.
At national elections last year, the LDP returned a huge majority to parliament's powerful lower house on widespread public support of its reformist platform, which centered on a plan to privatize the nation's sprawling postal services system, reduce the number of public servants and trim the national budget.
The party is expected to introduce a string of reform bills during this year's regular parliament session, which starts tomorrow, as well as a bill to allow women to ascend the nation's imperial throne.
The LDP has also announced a draft proposal to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution to give the military greater freedom to operate overseas.
The prime minister, however, did not comment on a preferred choice of successor -- a topic that been the focus of intense speculation in recent weeks.
Japan's prime minister is chosen in a parliamentary vote. The leader of the LDP, chosen in a vote within the party, is almost certain to become prime minister because of its majority in parliament.
Current favorites include Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, both foreign policy hard-liners and staunch supporters of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni.
Guests at the LDP convention included Toyota Motor Corp chairman Hiroshi Okuda, who heads Nippon Keidanren, the nation's most influential business lobby, and Takenori Kanzaki, chief of LDP's junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party.