BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday commemorated the 77th anniversary of the official start of war with Japan, condemning those who "ignore the iron 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 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 criticising Tokyo for historical revisionism and moves towards potential remilitarisation.
The conflict, commonly known in China as the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, led to the death of some 20 million Chinese, according to Beijing's estimates. It ended with Tokyo's World War II defeat in 1945.
Flanked by ageing war veterans and young students, Xi unveiled a slab-like sculpture marking the start of the conflict and praised 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 iron facts of history," Xi said.
He avoided mentioning Japan or Abe by name, but it was still an unusually pointed comment by China's head of state.
"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." In Taiwan dozens of slogan-chanting protesters tore up Japanese military flags and portraits of Abe, attempting to set fire to them before they were stopped by police.
Xi's remarks come as Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a territorial dispute over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, and after Japan last week announced a reinterpretation of its pacifist constitution that Beijing argues could send the country down the path to remilitarisation.