The visit comes as tensions between Asia's two largest economies
rise to a fever pitch, and China works to convince the world of its
viewpoint that Japan's war-era militarism is directly linked to its
current military buildup.
China's ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees
as Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China
before and during World War Two.
China consistently reminds its people of Japan's historical
brutality, such as the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in which China says
Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in the then national capital.
A postwar Allied tribunal put the death toll at 142,000, but some
conservative Japanese politicians and scholars deny a massacre took
Beijing is now stepping up efforts to take its message to the West,
especially aimed at the United States, Britain and other Western
nations who fought with China against Japan.
At the former prisoner of war camp outside the industrial
northeastern city of Shenyang, reporters were shown graphic images
of the terrible conditions endured by some 2,000 prisoners from the
United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
"Life was extremely difficult for the prisoners in the camp. Food
was an extremely precious thing. It was almost impossible to have
contact with them as a Chinese person," said Li Lishui, 89, the last
of a group of Chinese who helped the prisoners by passing them food.
Li proudly showed off a certificate of appreciation given him by the
U.S. State Department in 2005 for his efforts.
He added it was important people understood what was happening now
in Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has upped military
spending and is contemplating stretching the limits of the pacifist
constitution amid an ugly territorial spat in the East China Sea.
"The way the Japanese think about the East China Sea now is like how
they thought about northeast China. They didn't stop at the
northeast, they kept heading south to Shanghai and even Southeast
Asia," Li said.
Abe elicited harsh criticism from China last month when he visited
the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war
criminals are honored along with war dead. China and South Korea see
the shrine as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past, and visits
there by Japanese leaders have strained relations.
Deteriorating relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been fuelled
by a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea,
known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Ships from both
countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising
fears of a clash.
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Shenyang — known for its coal mines and harsh winters — is
particularly significant to the Chinese because of its role in
Japan's wartime occupation.
Japanese troops attacked Chinese military barracks in Shenyang in
1931 — the start of the Japanese occupation of large parts of China
that only ended with the close of World War Two.
China has also been using its foreign ambassadors to spread the
message about the perceived Japanese threat.
Earlier this month, China's ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming wrote
an editorial in The Telegraph newspaper comparing Japan's militarism
to Voldemort, the infamous villain the popular Harry Potter series
of children's books.
Liu reminded his British readers that Britain and China were allies
during the war, and referred to the new movie, "The Railway Man",
starring Hollywood actors Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, a harrowing
tale of Western prisoners of war forced by Japan to build the Burma
railway during the war.
Japan has not stood idly by, with its ambassador to London writing
in the same newspaper that it was China who was like Voldemort.
Tokyo has also announced plans to take Beijing-based foreign
reporters to visit Japan to explain its point of view.
Japan points to China's actions, such as setting up an air defense
identification zone in the East China Sea and its aggressive moves
in the South China Sea, as evidence Beijing is acting aggressively.
Sun Cheng, a professor of Chinese-Japanese relations at the China
University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said Beijing was
breaking new ground in taking its warnings about Japan directly to
the English-speaking world.
"Japan is viewed in the West as a democracy which should have the
support of the United States, Britain and others," he added. "But
Japan is changing and we need to pay attention to this and ...
reminding the world about its past is understandable."
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Greg Torode in
Hong Kong; editing by Nick Macfie)
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