China Signals Reconciliation With Japan at Memorial Marking 1937 Massacre

China marked the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre by Japan with a message of peace and friendship last week, potentially helping to realign relations between the rival Asian powers.

A somber President Xi Jinping led a nationally televised ceremony to remember the estimated 300,000 Chinese who died when Japan’s Imperial Army occupied Nanjing, then China’s capital, 80 years ago.

China has consistently reminded its people of the 1937 massacre, but in what is being interpreted as a highly significant diplomatic gesture, Xi did not lay wreaths or speak at the event on Wednesday, as he did on the same occasion three years ago.

Instead, the memorial speech was relegated to a lower-ranking senior party official, Yu Zhengsheng, who called for China and Japan “to grasp the broad direction of peaceful and friendly cooperation … and pass on friendship from generation to generation.”

A postwar international tribunal put the death toll from the massacre at 142,000, while some conservative Japanese politicians and scholars deny that one took place at all. Ties between China, the world’s second-largest economy, and Japan, the third-largest, have also been plagued by a territorial dispute over islets in the East China Sea and suspicion in China about efforts by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Wednesday’s conciliatory message, delivered on the occasion of the most brutal episode in Japan’s invasion of China, was not lost on observers.

After years of disputes over history, regional rivalry and even maritime territory, “China is clearly shifting gear and seeking to lower tension and improve ties with Japan,” said Zhang Lifan, a political historian in Beijing.

“As China expands its influence and encounters resistance in the region and beyond, improved relations with Japan can mitigate the situation and help China to focus on more urgent threats like the North Korean nuclear crisis,” he said.

“We have to move on and we still need to deal with Japan, trade with Japan, send students to Japan.”

“With President Trump urging Japan to bear more responsibilities, Prime Minister Abe cannot but think of various ways to have a modus vivendi with China,” he added.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Eric Baculinao, Greg Yu and Mia Li; Reuters