China highlights Japan's atrocities

Dressed in a dark blue sweater and with a wooden cane in hand, 89-year-old Li Lishui vividly recalls risking his life for a prisoner of war (POW) held almost seven decades ago at a Japanese internment camp in the north-eastern city of Shenyang.

Then a mechanical worker in a factory that was part of the camp, he had stolen cucumbers from a dining hall cart and shared them with a starving detainee forced into labour at the factory, right under the noses of patrolling Japanese soldiers, who occupied north-eastern China between 1931 and 1945.

"Life was extremely difficult for the prisoners. Food was an extremely precious thing," Mr Li recalled at a meeting with foreign journalists who were on a two-day trip to the region, arranged by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Mr Li was the last of a group of Chinese who aided the prisoners by giving them food, an act which earned him a certificate of appreciation from the United States State Department in 2005.

Turning to the key message he was tasked to deliver to the visitors of the former POW camp on Thursday, he warned that the recent moves by Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe - increased military spending and declarations that he will revise his country's pacifist Constitution - were reminiscent of Japan's wartime thinking.

"The way the Japanese think about the East China Sea now is like how they thought about north-east China. They did not stop at the northeast, they kept heading south to Shanghai and even South-east Asia," he said.

And in case the elderly Chinese man's warning did not register strongly enough, the visitors at the Shenyang Allied Prisoners of War Camp were shown images highlighting Japanese World War II atrocities in gruesome details.

The camp site, recently revamped and reopened to the public, housed some 2,000 prisoners from the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands during the war. More than 200 were said to have died there due to severe cold and diseases, including malaria and dysentery.

It was one of five stops during the media trip that was clearly part of Beijing's global propaganda war against Tokyo.

Tensions between Asia's two largest economies have been rising on the back of a simmering territorial dispute in the East China Sea, and Mr Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

Not content with near-daily criticisms of Japan in Chinese state media, China has in recent weeks mounted a sustained international campaign where its senior diplomats around the world were marshalled to speak out against what Beijing perceived as Tokyo's return to militarism.

Beijing stepped up its campaign on Thursday by leading almost 40 journalists from six countries such as Japan, South Korea and India to north-eastern China, where tens of millions of people were reportedly killed or wounded during the Japanese occupation. Yesterday, they were taken to the Fushun Pingdingshan Massacre Memorial Hall that commemorates some 3,000 Chinese villagers killed by Japanese soldiers on Sept 16, 1932.

All the curators of the museums visited took pains to describe the cruel and inhumane treatment the Japanese invaders subjected the Chinese to.

Many of the victims of the Pingdingshan massacre, for example, were said to be unarmed women and children.

The centre held nearly 1,000 Japanese war criminals from 1950 until 1964 for "rehabilitation and re-education", according to museum information.

Another stop yesterday was the Liaoning Provincial Archives that stores records of Japanese war aggression, opened to the public last August, where the journalists were shown three reports that gave details of the Nanking Massacre, the first time the original documents were made public.

Experts say China is trying to build its case against Japan on the international stage, especially after Mr Abe caused fury when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine last month.

China wants to frame rising tensions between the two Asian giants as not just a bilateral spat, but also one that puts at risk the broader region's peace and stability, they say.

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