Japan, China still at odds over Nanjing

Joint history study skirts death toll

Kyodo News

Academics from Japan and China released a long-awaited joint history report Sunday but remained apart on the number of people killed in the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

The research project, more than three years in the making, was launched in 2006 to improve mutual understanding between the two countries.

While both sides affirmed that the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War was an “act of aggression” waged by Japan, the postwar history section of the report — including studies on the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown — was not disclosed at the request of Chinese panel members, who feared a public backlash against the sensitive content.

While the Chinese side said the ’89 incident has nothing to do with Sino-Japanese ties, Japanese experts argued otherwise. For example, Japan lifted its Tiananmen-related economic sanctions against China far before the Western powers did, Japan’s experts pointed out, the sources said.

The 549-page report covers ancient, medieval and modern history, and describes specific periods of time or themes from papers submitted by the Japanese and Chinese academics. Its release marked the end of the joint project.

The panel, chaired by Shinichi Kitaoka, a professor at the University of Tokyo, and Bu Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, described the study as “the first term” and said it should be built on in a “second stage.”

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada welcomed the completion of the report, saying, “Even if there may have been differences in views, especially in modern and contemporary history, I think common understanding can gradually be nurtured by working on it.”

On the number of Chinese killed by the Imperial Japanese Army after it seized Nanjing, the report refers to opposing views in the two countries, where figures range from 20,000 to more than 300,000. Both sides refrained from asserting which figure should be deemed legitimate.

Japanese academics said China’s view is “based on the ruling of the 1947 Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal,” which said the number was more than 300,000, while noting that “various estimates up to 200,000, such as 40,000 and 20,000″ exist in Japanese studies.

Chinese researcher Rong Weimu also touched on the figures of the Nanjing tribunal, as well as data from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which said the number totaled more than 200,000, but he did not stipulate China’s view on the issue.

There has been no accepted figure because of differences in “the verification of data” in terms of the definition of “massacre,” the area and period in which the incident took place, burial records, and other sources, said panel member Sumio Hatano, a professor at the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture.

But they agreed that “mass killings” of prisoners of war, some civilians, stragglers and other people did occur, along with rapes, looting and arson.

On the eight-year war, both sides used the word “aggression” to refer to the invasion by the Japanese army and said it “left a deep scar on China that became the battleground and we have to say that most of the causes were created by the Japanese side.”

“The full-scale Sino-Japanese War not only inflicted a heavy toll on the military personnel of both countries, but especially on noncombatants in China,” according to Hatano.

The remarks clearly describe Japan as the victimizer in the war, which has long been the consensus view of a majority of Japanese academic experts. There are concerns in China that some people in Japan are denying the nation’s responsibility and even the historical fact that it conducted a war of aggression.

The Chinese papers conclude that the Sino-Japanese fighting was “an all-out aggressive war by Japanese militarism.”

On the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, an exchange of gunfire between Japanese and Chinese troops near Beijing that led to the war, the Chinese papers indicate a softening of Beijing’s stance, saying “there is a possibility that it may have occurred accidentally.”

The Japanese papers say the first shooting occurred accidentally, while adding an annotation that such a view is “dominant” among Japanese researchers, but many Chinese researchers insist that it was “planned or plotted” by the Japanese army.

In the modern history section, China’s papers tend to criticize Japan’s wartime acts and stress the suffering of its people based on the historical perspective that China continued to resist Japan’s aggression.

Later Sunday, part of an NHK TV broadcast announcing the release of the joint history study was blacked out for dozens of seconds in China. The disrupted segment was believed to be video footage of the bloody Tiananmen crackdown.

Japan avoids mentioning germ warfare Unit 731 but China refers to it by name.