Shinzo Abe has pledged to express “remorse” for Japan’s actions during World War II.

On Monday, the Japanese Prime Minister held his first news conference of 2015, and his first after a successful incumbent bid during last month’s election, using the opportunity to set a more peaceful tone after years of harsh rhetoric with fellow East Asian rivals China and South Korea.

“I would like to write of Japan’s remorse over the war, its postwar history as a pacifist nation and how it will contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Abe said during the news conference, which was held in Ise, Mie Prefecture, according to the The Japan Times. Abe’s comments referred to a new statement about Japan’s WWII aggressions being drafted by his administration, and set to be released in time for the 70th anniversary of WWII‘s end on May 8.

This conciliatory tone starkly contrasts with much of Abe’s previous term –a period during which he enraged much of China and South Korea by visiting a shrine to Japan’s war criminals, while also engaging in a heated row with China over disputed islands.

A recent TIME magazine article noted that South Korea and China are especially interested in Abe’s stance on the apology made in 1995 by his predecessor, Tomiichi Murayama, which highlighted the “tremendous damage and suffering” Japan inflicted on other Asia nations during the Second World War.

During the press conference on Monday, Abe said he “has and will uphold statements issued by past administrations.” But that pledge did not satisfy Chinese pundits. An editorial in Xinhua, which is considered to be a state mouthpiece, compared Japan to Nazi Germany and accused Abe of whitewashing his nation’s actions in WWII.

Xinhua added that Abe‘s statements on Monday were, “encouraging, but it is far from enough,” adding: “In order to earn the trust of the international community, not least those nations ravaged by imperialist Japan seven decades ago, he must take concrete actions to back up his words.”

A BBC story on the subject noted that China is especially irked by major shifts in Japan’s security policy last year, which will allow Abe to assign military aid to allies under attack. This policy change is a departure from Japan’s pacifist pledges in its WWII surrender, which prohibited the country from using force, except for matters of self defense. China says the new policy marks a “a revival of militarism” in Japan.

—Kyle Mullin

Image: Business Insider/Reuters