TOKYO Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to replace a landmark 1995 apology for suffering caused in Asia during World War Two with an unspecified "forward-looking statement", a newspaper reported on Monday.
Abe, a hawkish conservative who is known to want to recast Japan's position on its wartime militarism in less apologetic tones, led his party to a landslide victory in a December 16 election.
He outlined his intention to restate Japan's position in an interview with the conservative Sankei newspaper, but he did not give details.
Any hint that Japan is back-tracking from the 1995 apology, issued by then Prime Minister Tomic Murayama, is likely to outrage neighbours, particularly China and North and South Korea, which endured years of brutal Japanese rule.
"The Murayama statement was a statement issued by Socialist Party Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama," Abe was quoted as saying in an interview with the conservative Sankei newspaper published on Monday.
"I want to issue a forward-looking statement that is appropriate for the 21st century," he said.
Abe said he would consult experts about the details and the timing of statement.
He has also said he wants to loosen the constraints of Japan's post-war pacifist constitution.
Abe hails from a wealthy political family that includes a grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was a wartime cabinet minister who was imprisoned but never tried as a war criminal after the war. He went on to become prime minister from 1957 to 1960.
First elected to parliament in 1993 after the death of his father, a former foreign minister, Abe rose to national fame by adopting a tough stance toward North Korea in a dispute over Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea decades ago.
More recently, he has promised not to yield in a territorial row with China over tiny islands in the East China Sea - known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China - and boost defence spending to counter China's growing influence.
During a first stint as prime minister, which began in September 2006 and lasted a year, Abe pushed through a parliamentary revision of an education law to "restore patriotism" in school curriculums.
(Reporting by James Topham; Editing by Robert Birsel)