China’s Xi Asks People Not to Forget as Marks Nanjing

China’s President Xi Jinping said people should never forget the serious crimes committed by aggressors as the nation marked a new day of commemoration to remember the victims of the Nanjing massacre.

“Forgetting the history means betrayal, and denying the crime means committing it once again,” Xi said at a ceremony marking the “National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims.” The commemoration day is one of three set earlier this year -- the first was to remember the World War II victory over Japan -- as China seeks to highlight memories of Japanese aggression at a time of high tensions over a territorial dispute.

Xi and the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee members visited a memorial hall dedicated to the victims and observed a moment of silence in the morning, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The memorial was held in the nation’s highest standards, according to Xinhua.

Japan occupied large sections of China during a 1937-1945 war in which millions of Chinese died. Tens of thousands were killed during the 1937 sacking of Nanjing, which was the capital of the Nationalist government at the time.

The Nanjing Massacre “will be a psychological trauma for the entire Chinese nation forever,” the state-run People’s Daily newspaper said in an editorial Dec. 11. The commemoration will sear images of the massacre into the national memory, it said.

Relations between China and Japan deteriorated in 2012 over an islands dispute in the East China Sea, and a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese dead including war criminals from World War II, inflamed tensions further.

“It’s easy for the two sides to politicize history,” said Wang Xinsheng, a history professor at Peking University. “It only became an issue when relationship goes bad, but never the problem when the two neighbors get along.”

There have been signs of improved relations in recet months. Last month, Xi and Abe met during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing. Televised footage and pictures posted by Chinese state-run media outlets signaled the challenges ahead as Xi and Abe barely made eye contact and stood without smiling.

China designated three new national days earlier this year that all related to Japan’s wartime aggression. Along with commemorations of Nanjing and the World War II victory, the country set a day to remember war dead since 1840.

“The national remembrances this year is not only to show China’s hard-line stance to Japan, but also a patriotic education to remind the public of the glorious past of the Communist Party, which it says had played an important role in fighting against Japanese invasion,” Wang said by phone.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai

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