NEW YORK - Japan and China squared off at Monday's open debate at the UN Security Council held in commemoration of the end of World War II and the launch of the United Nations, with China stressing its role in the "world anti-fascist war" and Japan countering that it had "walked the path of a peace-loving nation."
China regards the debate, which it proposed and chaired, as a prelude to a full-fledged propaganda campaign around the 70th anniversary of the war's end. Many observers say this development necessitates efforts by Japan to disseminate Japan's opinions overseas.
Held under the theme of "the maintenance of international peace and security," the debate was attended by representatives from about 80 nations, including a score of cabinet ministers, who packed the venue.
As he calmly presided over the debate as chairman, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a veiled criticism of Japan.
"Although the historical facts have long been made clear on the war against fascism, there are still some reluctant to recognise the truth and [who] even attempt to overturn the verdict and whitewash past crimes of aggression," Wang said.
Motohide Yoshikawa, Japan's permanent representative at the United Nations, responded by saying: "Throughout its post-war history, Japan has, based on feelings of deep remorse regarding the Second World War ... walked the path of a peace-loving nation that contributes to the peace and security of the world."
Oh Joon, South Korea's permanent representative to the United Nations, said without naming a specific nation, "We also need to be wary of another kind of challenge to the values of the [UN] Charter that can come from attempts to disregard lessons of history."
Prelude to events
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is believed to be set to engage in a new round of propaganda this year, which it regards as the 70th anniversary of the "victory in the anti-fascist war" and the 70th anniversary of the "victory in the war of resistance against Japan."
According to Wang, the open debate was only a "prelude" to a series of events on the anniversaries, which can mean China is set to apply pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which will announce a statement on the 70th anniversary of the war's end.
China is also promoting cooperation with Russia over historical issues. Xi is scheduled to attend a ceremony to mark the victory in the war against Germany, which will be held in Moscow on May 9. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in turn, will attend a ceremony on Sept. 3 to mark the 70th anniversary of the "victory in the war of resistance against Japan."
The Xi administration apparently regards the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations' inception in September as a prime opportunity for its propaganda war. Xi will attend the ceremony while making an official visit to the United States.
During Monday's open debate, Wang stressed that China "always has been steadfast in upholding the spirit of the UN Charter, supporting the role of the UN" as a permanent member of the Security Council.
The remarks can be taken as efforts by the Xi administration to portray China as a major "victor" nation that has supported the postwar international order and to justify the new international order China wants to build under its leadership.
However, the Japanese government believes Wang has toned down his rhetoric from comments he made in January last year, which urged Japanese government leaders to sincerely reflect on their "wrong" words and deeds, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Behind Wang's apparent restraint is the gradual resumption of dialogue between Japan and China since November. Security dialogue between Japan and China, as well as a foreign ministerial meeting between the two nations and South Korea, is scheduled in the latter half of March.
Depending on how the Abe administration deals with historical issues, however, China might escalate its criticism against Japan, according to observers.
After learning that China was holding the open debate, the Japanese government urged other UN members, through its permanent mission to UN, to make the debate "forward-looking."
The United States and Britain, which have responded coldly to China's propaganda war, have asked China not to criticise Japan over history, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Other representatives at the open debate were more concerned about the situations in Ukraine and Syria.