Tokyo yesterday said that it is puzzled over why Beijing approved national remembrance days to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre and its defeat in World War II, after decades of Japanese pacifism.
The move is the latest in a vitriolic diplomatic spat between Asia’s two largest economies, who are at loggerheads over disputed territory and differing interpretations of their shared history.
State media in China reported on Thursday that the Chinese National People’s Congress, the rubber-stamp parliament, had designated Sept. 3 as “Victory Day” and Dec. 13 as a day to remember those killed when imperial troops raped and pillaged the then-capital of Nanjing.
Japan invaded China in the 1930s and the two countries fought a full-scale war from 1937 to 1945.
China says more than 300,000 people were slaughtered by Japanese troops in a six-week killing spree in Nanjing, which started on Dec. 13, 1937.
Some foreign academics put the figure lower.
It was unclear what significance the formal “national days” would have, although they are not expected to be public holidays.
Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that he could not understand why China had made this change at this point.
“I can’t deny there is a question why they have to set up these commemoration days more than 60 years after the war,” Suga said.
“But this is a domestic matter for China, so the government declines to comment on it,” Suga added.
“Japan’s position on World War II has not changed a bit, and Japan has followed the path of peaceful nationhood since the end of the war, which has been highly commended by the international community,” he added.
Tokyo and Beijing are embroiled in a series of rows, including a long-running diplomatic dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
Tensions rose further late last year when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including convicted World War II war criminals.
Abe told the Japanese parliament this week that he “must make more effort” to get Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, to understand his pilgrimage.
Suga said on Thursday that Abe “meant to say that his visit was to pledge that Japan would never wage war again, that he would build a peaceful nation.”
Chinese officials often call on Japan to “reflect” on its past, while Tokyo says its neighbors use history as a diplomatic stick to beat it with.
Japan’s official position, one that has been repeatedly endorsed by successive governments, is that it inflicted grievous harm on the populations of countries it invaded, and has offered numerous apologies.
However, comments by senior right-wing figures — including those with close connections to Abe — on the veracity of events like the Nanjing Massacre regularly undermine that stance.