Chinese citizens will observe two new holidays in 2014 after lawmakers in Beijing approved the official days of remembrance to mark both the Nanjing massacre and Japan’s defeat in World War Two. September 3 will now be called “Victory Day of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” while December 13 will memorialize the 1937 atrocity committed by Japanese imperial soldiers in the country’s former capital.
The move is the latest indicator of toxic diplomatic relations between the world’s second and third largest economies, as China and Japan continue to exchange verbal blows over territorial disputes in the East China Sea. Both claim a remote group of rocks, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
There is no doubt that the approved “national days” are related to what many observers consider an increasingly right-wing Japanese government.
“By proposing the new holidays commemorating Japan’s aggression in WWII, the Chinese government will have regular, formal occasions to keep the focus not only on what the Japanese did in the 1930s and ’40s but on the threat posed today by Abe and his resurgent nationalist allies,” wrote Businessweek.
Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the infamous Yasukuni war shrine late last year – the first visit by a sitting PM since 2006 – several Japanese officials have made public gaffes that indicate a revisionist view of the country’s war history. Still, the highest ranking Japanese government spokesperson seemed puzzled by the move.
“I can’t deny there is a question why they have to set up these commemoration days more than 60 years after the war,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, said in a statement. “But this is a domestic matter for China, so the government declines to comment on it. Japan’s position on WWII 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.”
Despite what may be perceived as a Japanese government in denial over documented war crimes, some are also calling the newly minted holidays part of a Beijing-led “propaganda war” against Japan.
Last month, Chinese officials brought members of the international press on a tour of a former Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Last week, journalists were invited to Nanjing. Beijing claims that more than 300,000 people were killed in the six-week period also known as the Rape of Nanjing, though an international post-war tribunal pegs the number at just over 140,000.
“During the two-day tour [of Nanjing], Communist Party officials and academics made continuous allusions to the Holocaust,” wrote The Telegraph. “A museum guide ushered reporters through a dimly-lit exhibit filled with gruesome black-and-white images of burned and mutilated bodies entitled ‘A Human Holocaust.’ Officials also arranged an interview with an octogenarian survivor of the massacre … who recounted witnessing the Japanese slaughter of her family.”
Yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to China called on the feuding neighbors to cool tensions. A combination of tit-for-tat bickering and the deep scars of WWII make that task much easier said than done.