TOKYO -- Japan sent mixed signals yesterday to China, offering a ''heartfelt apology" for its World War II aggressions to try to repair tattered ties, but blunting that message when Japanese lawmakers visited a war shrine critics say glorifies Tokyo's militaristic past.
A Chinese official welcomed the apology but added that ''what's of much more importance is the action. You have to make it a reality."
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's expression of ''deep remorse" at a summit of Asian and African leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, broke no new ground.
But the rare appeal was a clear attempt to reverse the worst erosion of ties between Tokyo and Beijing since diplomatic relations were established in 1972.
''In the past, Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations," Koizumi said at the opening ceremony for the summit, conveying Tokyo's ''deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for its conquests.
''Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility," he said.
Japanese officials announced today that Koizumi would meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in an effort to settle the ongoing dispute over Japan's handling of its wartime atrocities.
The meeting will take place in Jakarta this evening, along the sidelines of the summit for Asian and African leaders.
''The prime minister said they will talk about friendship and cooperation, which are the key to prosperity of the region," said Akira Chiba, a spokesman for Koizumi's delegation. ''We were very eager to meet each other." There was no immediate comment from the Chinese officials.
Koizumi's choice of showing contrition at an international forum overseas put him squarely before many former victims of Japan's atrocities, which include mass sex slavery and germ warfare.
It also marked the first statement of remorse from a Japanese leader since 1995 and the first outside of Japan since Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu apologized for wartime brutalities in Singapore in 1991.
However, Koizumi's remarks were a far cry from what many Asian nations have long clamored for: a strongly worded official statement of apology endorsed by Parliament.
Rhetoric alone appears unlikely to smooth over Tokyo's rift with Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said ''60 years of history has caused great harm to China and Asia."
''That . . . Koizumi expressed this attitude in this arena is welcome. We welcome it," Kong told reporters at the two-day summit attended by more than 100 Asian and African leaders. ''But to express it is one aspect. What's of much more importance is the action. You have to make it a reality."
He said Japan had to do more to ''face up to history."
The summit is being held to commemorate the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Java, which gathered former colonized nations from the two continents for the first time. Other nations represented also suffered under Japanese rule during the war, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Koizumi told the summit that Japan planned to double its official development assistance to African nations over the next three years and provide the bulk of it in grant aid.
Relations between Japan and China have sunk to their lowest point in decades, aggravated by anti-Japan protests in China in recent weeks as well as disputes over the UN Security Council, natural gas resources in disputed seas, and new Japanese textbooks that critics say minimize Japan's wartime offenses.
''Mr. Koizumi is bringing out an old apology that has been repeated many times over the past 10 years, every time Japan had to repair diplomatic relations with Asian neighbors," said Shinichi Arai, professor emeritus at Surugadai University. ''The problem is that only the words were repeated, but Japan has never done anything to prove it really regretted its past."
Beijing also has objected to Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including convicted war criminals who ordered Tokyo's brutal invasion of other Asian nations in the first half of the 20th century.
A monument of Japan's indigenous Shinto religion, it was also used to fan nationalism and emperor worship.
The shrine's symbolism came into sharp focus yesterday, as just hours before Koizumi's speech, dozens of Parliament members made a pilgrimage there.
This week a Tokyo court rejected a suit for apology and compensation by survivors and relatives of victims of Japan's biological warfare and the 1937-38 Rape of Nanking, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired. Historians generally agree that imperial soldiers killed 150,000 people in the Chinese city.
Tokyo's oft-stated policy is that claims of compensation have already been settled by agreements establishing diplomatic relations with its neighbors.
Material from Reuters was included in this report.