Japan's new defense minister Tomomi Inada talks to reporters at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon(reuters_tickers)
By Tim Kelly
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's new defence minister, known for her revisionist views of Japan's wartime actions, declined on Thursday to say whether Japan liberated or invaded Asian countries before World War Two or if Japanese troops massacred civilians in China.
Tomomi Inada, a 57-year old ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, took up her post on Thursday, a day after being appointed.
"Whether you would describe Japan's actions as an invasion depends on one's point of view. I don't think it is appropriate for me to comment" Inada said at a briefing at her ministry when asked repeatedly to clarify her views on wartime history.
Her failure to condemn Japan's actions up to and during World War Two could anger neighbours, including China and South Korea, which have repeatedly called on Japan to apologise.
China says Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in the city of Nanjing in 1937 while a post-war Allied tribunal put the death toll at about half that number.
Some conservative Japanese politicians and academics deny that a massacre took place, or they put the toll much lower.
"It's important for the facts to be looked at objectively," Inada said.
She has called for a revamp of Japan's war-renouncing constitution to ease the constraints on the military operating overseas and has also been a regular visitor to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead that neighbours, including China and South Korea, see as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
Visits to the shrine by political leaders infuriate China South Korea.
When asked on Wednesday if she would visit it again ahead of the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945, Inada declined to comment. Her predecessor at the ministry, Gen Nakatani, stayed away during his term.
Inada, who was a lawyer before becoming a lawmaker in 2005, is known for a revisionist view of World War Two that plays down or denies atrocities by Japanese troops and paints its aggression as an act of liberation against colonial powers.
She has also questioned whether Japan forced women from Korea and other countries into military brothels, In 2007, she supported a full page announcement in the Washington Post that the women had worked as licensed prostitutes.
When asked at the briefing if her view on the issue had changed, Inada declined to comment.
Inada, who was previously LDP policy chief, was one of three lawmakers reportedly denied entry into South Korea in 2011 because they planned to visit islands that both countries claim.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)