Chinese President Xi urges Japan to own up to responsibility for Nanjing Massacre


NANJING, China — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Dec. 13 marked the first national observance of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre with a call on Japan to own up to responsibility for the tragedy, saying that acknowledgment of the two countries’ troubled past is crucial to improving relations.

“Forgetting history means betrayal. Denying responsibility for a crime means repeating it,” Xi said in an address on the 77th anniversary of the sacking of China’s then capital by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Evidence of Japan’s actions, Xi said, is “as tall as a mountain and iron clad,” citing official Chinese estimates that more than 300,000 died during the six-week siege.

Japanese historians estimate the death toll variously between tens of thousands and 200,000.

“History will not agree with any person who wants to change the facts of the Nanjing Massacre,” Xi said. “The souls of 300,000 innocent victims will not agree, and 1.3 billion Chinese will not agree.”

The commemoration, held at the newly renovated memorial hall for the victims of the massacre with more than 10,000 people attending, comes at a delicate moment for Sino-Japanese relations.

After more than two years of strained bilateral ties triggered by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea, Xi finally consented to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last month.

The meeting helped ease diplomatic tensions but disagreements over historical issues remain a major obstacle to closer bilateral ties.

Despite the strong language, the ceremony’s intent, Xi said, “is not to continue our enmity. The people of China and Japan should be friends through the ages.”

“History,” he said, “tells us that we must safeguard peace.”

Abe angered China last December with a visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a memorial to Japan’s war dead that includes the names of convicted war criminals.

Since that time, China has declared three national days of remembrance devoted to commemorating the war, including December 13th.

Beijing has since pushed hard to raise awareness of both Japanese war crimes and China’s own role in defeating the Axis powers.

State-run media has flooded the country with a seemingly endless stream of news stories about the occupation. This summer, a months-long series based on the confessions of Japanese war criminals served as a daily reminder of the two countries’ unfinished business.

The efforts are intended in part to counter assertions by some Japanese that China has exaggerated the massacre.

But Beijing’s increased focus on the war is also part of a strategy to encourage patriotism and cement the Communist Party’s legitimacy.

“The large amounts of state investment in these politics of memory … are very clearly intended to give the Chinese people who are its target a stronger sense of national identity,” said Adam Cathcart, a specialist in Sino-Japanese relations at the University of Leeds.

As if to drive the point home, in preparation for the event the city decorated its streets with enormous banners urging the public to “Inscribe history in your memory” and “Never forget our national humiliation.”

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