In an attempt to stem the raging row with China, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Friday apologised for the "tremendous damage and suffering" caused by Japan's wartime past.
He was addressing leaders of 100 Asian and African countries, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, gathered at Jakarta for the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Bandung Asian-African Conference.
"In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations," Koizumi said.
"Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility. The Japanese people have engraved in their minds feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology," he said.
Though similar apologies have been issued by Japan in the past, it has never been made before such an international audience.
The apology comes after violent protests and demonstrations spread across China since early April against a Japanese textbook, which Beijing believes glosses over its wartime history.
Hu and Koizumi are now likely to meet over the weekend at the sidelines of the conference, though dates have not yet been announced.
However, the visit by 80 Japanese MPs to a Tokyo shrine that honors Japan's war dead Friday may not go down well with China, which says those honored include perpetrators of war time atrocities.