DESPITE attempted fence-mending by Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, Japan's brutalities during World War II continue to overshadow relations with China.
During his visit to China last week, Mr. Murayama tried to soothe remnant war anger here by visiting sensitive memorials and offering remorse for Japanese aggression.
Last Wednesday, the Japanese leader visited Marco Polo Bridge and Museum in suburban Beijing, where an incident triggered by the Japanese Army led to Japan's invasion of China. Murayama signed the visitors' book pledging ''to look directly at history and preserve forever friendship and peace between Japan and China.''
But once again Japan stopped short of the outright apology sought by China because of political opposition at home. Murayama's coalition government is split over a proposed parliamentary resolution apologizing for the war in observance of the 50th anniversary of its end.
''In order to build mutual trust with neighboring Asia and elsewhere, it is imperative for Japanese people to look squarely at the history of our relationship with them and recognize it correctly,'' Murayama said at a news conference.
Murayama suggested that Tokyo might consider individual claims for compensation from war-time victims. But he said a 1972 communique reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries had closed the door on payment of national reparations to China. Chinese leaders didn't raise the reparations issue in talks, although Chinese Premier Li Peng urged Japan to quell remaining militaristic sentiment.
Murayama expressed ''hope that a resolution [of apology] will be achieved in the end.''
''The Chinese see his remorse as an individual statement rather than the official expression of apology that they want,'' says an Asian diplomat in Beijing.
CHINA also was disappointed by Japan's lack of sympathy for its mounting burden of official yen development assistance loans totaling $10 billion. Those loans have grown into a mountain of debt with the appreciation of the Japanese yen in recent months.
A Japanese official traveling with Murayama said that China's debt burden was not open for discussion during the visit. At his press conference, Murayama suggested ''that the yen's appreciation will bring positive effects, such as increasing direct investment from Japan to China.''
The Japanese leader also urged China to follow the lead of the United States, Russia, Britain, and France and end nuclear testing. But he got no response. Mr. Li, China's premier, indicated that China backs renewal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which expires this year and is under debate before the United Nations.