Japan's defence minister said today he will sack the air force chief of staff for saying that Japan was ensnared into World War Two by the United States and was not an aggressor in the conflict in Asia.
General Toshio Tamogami's essay, posted on the website of a Japanese hotel and apartment developer, was expected to rouse anger in China and South Korea, where memories of Japan's wartime acts and colonisation run deep.
"I think it is improper as the air force chief of staff to publicly state a view clearly different from that of the government's," Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada told a group of reporters.
"Therefore, it is inappropriate for him to remain in this position and I will swiftly dismiss him."
Japan expressed remorse for its war-time actions in 1995, following it up with another apology a decade later.
Kyodo News Agency quoted Prime Minister Taro Aso as also saying that the essay, in which the air force general denied Japan was ever the aggressor in China, was inappropriate.
Disputes over wartime history often fray ties with Beijing and Seoul, although relations with China especially have warmed in the past two years as both sides seek to put priority on deepening trade and investment.
"Even now there are many people who think that our country's aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War," Tamogami wrote in the essay.
"But we need to realise that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation," he said.
The English and Japanese language versions of the essay were posted on hotel and apartment developer Apa Group's website (http://www.apa.co.jp_report/index.html).
Similar views are shared by some right-wing Japanese scholars and politicians. But successive Japanese governments, including Aso's, have backed a landmark government apology to people in countries, particularly in Asia, that suffered under Japan's colonial rule and aggression.
While Aso is known as an outspoken nationalist, he has been expected to take a pragmatic view on the relationship with China. Just last week, the leaders of the two countries met in Beijing and agreed to set up a hotline to deepen trust.
Hamada said by acting swiftly against the general, the Japanese government had made clear it did not share his views which he said could stir controversy in Asian nations.
Tamogami said in the essay that Japan's military actions in China were based on treaties, and that the Korean peninsula under Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule "was prosperous and safe".
He argued that Japan was drawn into World War Two by then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he said was being manipulated by the Comintern, the international communist organisation founded in Moscow in 1919.
Tamogami also rejected the verdicts of an Allied tribunal which convicted Japanese wartime leaders as war criminals after Tokyo's defeat in 1945.