China uses Merkel visit to criticise Japan’s lack of contrition
President Xi Jinping lambasts Japan’s wartime aggression on key anniversary
A protester burns a portrait of Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, with the Chinese characters ‘Shameful’ written on it, outside the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong yesterday. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters
China stepped up its anti-Japanese rhetoric yesterday, taking the opportunity of a visit by Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel to lambast Japan for its wartime aggression on the 77th anniversary of the event that marked the start of Japan’s invasion of China.
Chinese leaders and media highlighted the difference between Germany’s perceived contrition for war crimes during the second World War and the stance of Japan, which China feels has not done enough to atone for the invasion and occupation of China.
Relations between China and Japan are at a low ebb, with the two Asian powerhouses hotly disputing a chain of uninhabited islands in resource-rich waters in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, and there are fears these tensions could escalate.
President Xi Jinping gave a speech at the Museum of the Sino-Japanese in the outskirts of Beijing, to mark the 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937. The episode led to a stand-off between Chinese and Japanese soldiers which resulted in the full-scale invasion of China.
“History is history and facts are facts. Nobody can change history and facts,” President Xi told a crowd at the museum, which is located near the Luguo Bridge, as the Marco Polo Bridge is known in Chinese.
“Anyone who intends to deny, distort or beautify the history of aggression will never be tolerated by Chinese people and people of all other countries . . . It’s a pity that a small minority of people still ignore iron-clad history and the fact that tens of millions of innocent people lost their lives in the war.”
In a meeting with Ms Merkel, premier Li Keqiang urged remembrance of history. “The future can be inaugurated and peace can be maintained only if lessons from history are kept in mind,” he said during a joint press briefing. Ms Merkel did not comment.
China frequently counterpoints regular apologies for war crimes with what it sees as Tokyo’s insincere displays of contrition. Beijing likes to point to sites such as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin as an example of how Germany marks the darkest period in its history, and says no such memorial exists in Japan.
The Chinese were highly critical last week when prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet took a historic step away from Japan’s post-war pacifism this week by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since 1945.
China is also angry about repeated visits by senior Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war criminals among the fallen.
“From the slapstick of the ‘nationalisation’ of China’s Diaoyu Islands by the former Japanese government, to Abe’s ridiculous visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and to the pacifist Constitution reinterpretation, right-wingers in Japan have initiated a series of provocations,” the state-run Xinhua news agency said in a fiery editorial.
“War is hell, but there are always devils who try to spark war and trample peace under foot. Those people who provoked the war marked their own country with humiliation in history,” it said.
Every day, Xinhua has been running a handwritten confession of war guilt by a convicted war criminal, along with Chinese translations and abstracts in both Chinese and English.