Au Pak Kuen, a Hong Kong schoolteacher and activist, sounded angry and disappointed.
Au picked through the final wording of a draft statement meant to close the book on Japan’s behavior in World War II and found “deep remorse” but no apology.
“Remorse means they’re telling us what’s in their minds. An apology reaches out to the offended party. We are not asking what is in the Japanese government’s mind. We are asking for an apology.”
Au, 48, is campaigning for restitution for Hong Kong people mistreated under Japanese occupation, and his sentiments were echoed elsewhere in Asia on Wednesday.
“The Japanese killed, robbed, set fires and pilfered in China,” said Han Ku-yu, a legislator of Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party. “Without an apology, how can we placate our ancestors and our offspring?”
“It’s nothing but pure lip service,” said Yoon Mi-hyang, spokeswoman for a group representing South Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops. “We want a clear-cut apology.”
While activists such as Au were quick to reject the Japanese formulation, Asian governments made no immediate comment.
Australia, which has been particularly forthright in demanding a Japanese apology, said it would wait until the resolution is approved by Japan’s Parliament.
A Malaysian Foreign Ministry official repeated Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s longstanding view that “Japan should forget about apologizing and carry on with economic cooperation.”
Still, the absence of a straight apology - as well as the political tug of war that preceded the statement - suggests that the issue will continue to weigh upon Japan’s relationship with its Asian neighbors.
The issue is exacerbated by the regular spectacle of Japanese politicians outraging Asian countries with claims that Japan was fighting to liberate Asia from Western rule or that its atrocities were fiction.
In the latest such incident, former Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe said Japan’s 35-year colonization of Korea was “friendly.”