JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 23 -- After apologizing Friday for his country's aggressive role in World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won agreement from Chinese President Hu Jintao to meet at the Asian-African summit later Saturday to help ease tensions between the countries, Japanese officials said.
The meeting will take place during the gathering of more than 100 nations in the Indonesian capital. Although Japanese officials and others said the encounter would be an important step toward conciliation, analysts pointed out that the underlying differences had been decades in the making and would take more than words to resolve.
"It would help to promote understanding," said Akira Chiba, a spokesman for Koizumi's delegation. "Even if we have only 15 minutes, both sides will deliver a message that can be delivered during these 15 minutes. That's far better than not delivering a message at all."
Chiba said that could be the catalyst to repair relations, which are at their lowest point in more than three decades. "When you crack ice in the lake, you just hit it once, and that's enough to drive a crack all across the surface," he said.
Koizumi made the apology in a brief speech to delegates Friday morning in which he reiterated statements of previous Japanese prime ministers. Japan, he said, "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."
He said that "Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility" and "with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology."
Koizumi's remarks referred to wartime atrocities, including a massacre in Nanjing that historians estimate killed 200,000 to 300,000 people. Large, angry protests in China in recent weeks were touched off by recently approved Japanese textbooks that describe the massacre as an "incident."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China welcomed Koizumi's apology -- but said more need to be done, the Associated Press reported.
"That President Koizumi expressed this attitude in this arena is welcome. We welcome it," Kong told reporters at the summit. "But to express it is one aspect. What's of much more importance is the action. You have to make it a reality."
The apology took place on the day that 168 Japanese lawmakers and political aides made a controversial pilgrimage to the Yasakuni shrine in Tokyo, which memorializes Japan's military dead, including convicted World War II criminals. Japanese officials traveling with Koizumi defended the pilgrimage to the shrine as something that happens every year.
The officials also played down the timing of the apology. "It's got nothing to do with the dispute," said Shimichi Nishimiya, Japan's deputy director general of Asia and Oceania Affairs, speaking to reporters. "It wasn't inserted in a hurry in reaction to events. Today is not the first time we've been saying it. We're not playing this apology game."
He said that Koizumi spoke in the context of Japan regaining international acceptance after World War II, which Nishimiya said took place in 1955 at the first Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, 75 miles southeast of Jakarta.
"We did something wrong in Asia, and Asian countries . . . were good enough to let us back into international society," he said.
However, the timing of the apology was hardly coincidental, analysts said.
"Apologies no longer are enough," said Andrew Horvat, Japan representative for the San-Francisco-based Asia Foundation. "What is needed is for Japan to take a bold initiative, to articulate a vision" for Northeast Asia in which Japan makes concrete gestures of goodwill. They could include humanitarian aid, scholarships for China and the creation of a security framework.
The China-Japan dispute has darkened what was otherwise supposed to be a celebratory 50th anniversary of the Asia-Africa conference at Bandung. That historic meeting led to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement and marked not just Japan's re-entry on the world stage but China's global emergence.
On Friday, in another bilateral meeting at the summit, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae Chan met with Kim Yong Nam, president of the North Korean parliament. The 10-minute meeting was the highest-level encounter between the two countries in five years. But according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the men did not discuss the North's nuclear program or resuming bilateral dialogue
Correspondents Edward Cody in Beijing and Anthony Faiola in Tokyo contributed to this report.