BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday commemorated the 77th anniversary of the official start of the war with Japan, condemning those who “ignore the incontrovertible facts of history” in an oblique jab at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Xi and a cast of hundreds of soldiers and schoolchildren gathered for a ceremony on the edge of the capital to mark the Marco Polo Bridge incident, a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops on July 7, 1937, that served as a pretext for Tokyo’s forces to seize Beijing and thus trigger the Sino-Japanese War.
The event, carried live on state television, came amid a deluge of articles in China’s state and Communist Party-controlled media linked to the anniversary and criticizing Tokyo for historical revisionism and moves toward potential remilitarization.
The conflict, commonly known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and which Beijing estimates resulted in the deaths of some 20 million of its people, ended with Tokyo’s World War II defeat in 1945.
Flanked by aging war veterans and young students, Xi unveiled a sculpture marking the start of the conflict and lauded the resistance of all sectors of Chinese society against what he described as Japan’s “barbaric invasion” aimed at “annexing” China.
“There are still a small number of people who ignore the incontrovertible facts of history,” Xi said, although he avoided mentioning Japan or Abe by name.
“History is history and facts are facts. Nobody can change history and facts,” he added. “Anyone who intends to deny, distort or beautify history will not find agreement among Chinese people and people of all other countries.”
Xi’s remarks come as Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea, and after Japan last week announced a reinterpretation of the pacifist Constitution that Beijing argues could send the country down the path to remilitarization.
Japan has issued repeated apologies over the war. But frequent statements by conservative politicians and public figures seemingly casting doubt on them and calling into question factual issues have increased suspicion in China and some other countries, including South Korea.
Abe’s visit in December to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which memorializes convicted World War II criminals among Japan’s war dead only added fuel to the fire.
Ahead of the anniversary, China last week began releasing a daily “confession” by Japanese war criminals, and state-run media have been intensifying criticism of Japan.
In a commentary, the official news agency Xinhua said: “Seventy-seven years later, the psychological wounds of the Chinese people have not been fully healed, as Japanese rightists have repeatedly denied its atrocities of the aggression and taken a provocative approach in addressing ties with its neighboring countries.”