China pushing WW2 anniversary events, but Western turnout could be low-key

China pushing WW2 anniversary events, but Western turnout could be low-key

BEIJING - China is trying hard to get world leaders to attend events marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Beijing this year, including a military parade, but some diplomats said President Xi Jinping could be left standing on the stage with few top Western officials.

These Western diplomats said their countries were worried Beijing would use the occasion to blast Japan over its eight-year-long occupation of large parts of China before and during the war.

Other concerns were the fact Chinese troops would probably march in Tiananmen Square, scene of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and the expected presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Beijing-based diplomats told Reuters.

The commemoration in early September is getting widespread coverage in state media and will be among the most important public events for Xi this year. A small turnout might embarrass him at a time when China's influence in global affairs is growing, the diplomats said.

China has usually marked the end of World War Two in a low-key manner.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not explicitly said who had been asked to attend the events, though in a roundabout way has confirmed that Japan had been invited.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo had not made any decision on attending. Britain and France said it was too early to comment on their representation while a US State Department spokesperson said Chinese officials had raised the commemoration in a "general manner" but had not extended a formal invitation.

A German government spokesman said Chancellor Angela Merkel had not yet been invited.

Sino-Japanese ties have deteriorated sharply during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's tenure, partly over his less apologetic tone toward Japan's wartime history. He also riled Beijing in late 2013 by visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen in China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Abe has said he intends to express remorse over the war this year in a statement to coincide with the anniversary. "If the focus is about Japan, it will make a lot of people very uncomfortable," said a senior Western official in Beijing, who is familiar with the activities the Chinese are planning, including the main event, the military parade.

One diplomatic source said China was "strongly" pushing its invitation with major participants in the war and other Asian nations. That source and the other diplomats asked that their countries not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Asked at a news briefing on Monday if Beijing was worried leaders of major Western nations would not attend because of possible squeamishness over the events, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "This way of thinking isn't very rational."

Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said last week that China would invite soldiers from Western Allies to march in the military parade that he said was expected to take place in Tiananmen Square.

Sources told Reuters in February that Xi would review the parade.

Putin, who has angered Europe and the United States with his annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine, plans to travel to China in September, Russian media have reported, on a visit expected to encompass the commemorations.

WINNING FRIENDS

It's been a good six months for Xi on the diplomatic front.

He sought to show China's softer side when he hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, in particular taking a more conciliatory line on territorial disputes with countries such as Japan and the Philippines.

Xi's government also pledged billions of dollars in loans to neighbouring countries at the time.

More recently, US allies have thrown their weight behind a new China-led development lender that Washington had urged them to stay away from.

But Beijing rarely misses an opportunity to remind the world of Japan's wartime role and has already stepped up the criticism as the anniversary approaches.

"China and the United States, we were allies and we defeated the fascist aggression," Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States, told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament in early March.

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