Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to respond to an international campaign that he said is being waged to taint Japan's image, a day after China designated two dates to mark the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and Japan's World War II surrender in 1945.
"There is a campaign under way abroad to soil Japan's name, with propaganda depicting a Japan that is completely different from the real Japan," he told Parliament yesterday, in a clear reference to China.
"I would think of a strong public relations strategy going forward," he added. Sino-Japanese relations have been in a constant downward spiral over historical issues and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea in recent years.
China's top legislature approved the two national memorial days on Thursday.
Sept3 is now officially "Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression", and Dec13, the "National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims".
The move reflects the common will of the Chinese people, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Mr Zhang Dejiang, was quoted as saying by Chinese media.
Japanese troops invaded Nanjing, then the Chinese capital, on Dec 13, 1937, and began a 40-day period of killing, looting and raping that China claims left 300,000 dead.
Japan is puzzled by China's latest move, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's spokesman, told a press conference yesterday.
"It is already over 60 years since the end of World War II. We cannot but question why those days are being designated now," he said. But Mr Suga was also quick to play down the move, saying: "They are China's domestic problems.
"The government does not wish to comment."
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular briefing that China decided to enact the memorial days because "in some countries, there are people with selective amnesia or who cannot remember history and are trying to rewrite history, deny the Nanjing Massacre and repeatedly pay respects to convicted World War II criminals".
The spokesman was referring to visits by Japanese politicians to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 Class-A war criminals, among some 2.5 million war dead.
Mr Abe, refusing to heed Washington's advice, prayed at Yasukuni last December, enraging Beijing as well as Seoul, and plunging Tokyo's ties with both countries to new lows.
Asian countries view Yasukuni as a monument that glorifies Japan's past militarism.
Professor Satoshi Amako, a China expert at Tokyo's Waseda University, believes that the designation of the two memorial days is part of Beijing's international strategy against Tokyo, but cannot understand why Beijing has gone to such lengths.
"By going all out against Japan, it will definitely also hurt China itself at some point," Prof Amako said.
In Beijing, North-east Asia expert Wang Dong of Peking University pointed out that the plan to set up national memorial days has been around for almost a decade.
"The establishment of the two memorial days will help the Chinese people remember that part of history," he told The Straits Times.
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