• Reuters

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China and Japan should set aside hatred and not allow the minority who led Japan to war affect relations now, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday as the country marked its first national memorial day for the Nanking Massacre.

Beijing and Tokyo have long sparred over their painful history. China consistently reminds its people of the 1937 massacre in which it says Imperial Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in what was then its capital.

A postwar Allied tribunal put the death toll at 142,000, but some conservative Japanese politicians and scholars deny a massacre took place at all.

Ties deteriorated sharply over the past year following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals among Japan’s war dead. The two countries are also involved in a sovereignty dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

But both sides, mindful of the economic stakes, reached an agreement last month to try to reset relations during an ice-breaking meeting between Xi and Abe in Beijing.

Speaking at a memorial in Nanjing, a somber Xi said that while history must never be forgotten, the future was just as important.

“The reason we are having a memorial for the Nanking Massacre victims is to recall that all good-hearted people yearn for and hold fast to peace, not to prolong hatred,” Xi said in comments carried live on state television. “The people of China and Japan should pass on friendship from generation to generation.

“Forgetting history is a betrayal, and denying a crime is to repeat a crime. We should not hate a people just because a small minority of militarists set off an invasion and war,” he continued, ” . . . but nobody at any time should forget the severe crimes of the invaders.”

Doves to signify peace flew overhead once Xi, wearing a white flower on his lapel to signify mourning, finished his speech.

Next year sees the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and China has already promised memorials that may offer the potential for further Sino-Japanese friction.

In recent days, China has released heart-rending accounts of the violence from its archives.

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