BEIJING--China is raising Japan’s wartime past in the latest dispute over the Senkaku Islands, apparently in hopes of winning support for its territorial claims from countries that were invaded by Japanese troops.
In previous spats over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands, Beijing refrained from bringing up the history issue to denounce Japan. But China’s anger over the Japanese government’s recent purchase of three of the islands from a landowner in Saitama Prefecture has brought about a new dimension to the dispute.
"Both China and Papua New Guinea were victims of the Japanese fascist invasion back in World War II," state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Vice Premier Li Keqiang as telling Peter O'Neill, the Papuan prime minister, on visit to China, on Sept. 11.
Li is considered in line to become the next premier of China.
O'Neill replied: "Papua New Guinea and China have had similar historical experiences. We understand China's stance on the Diaoyu Islands issue."
The Japanese government officially decided to acquire the three islands on Sept. 10. In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement of strong protest against the purchase plan.
"In 1895, as the Qing (dynasty) government's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War was all but certain, Japan illegally occupied the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands," the Sept. 10 statement said. "Japan's position on the issue of the Diaoyu Island is an outright denial of the outcomes of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War."
The Chinese argument is that the Senkaku Islands were illegally invaded and occupied by Japanese militarism--and were returned to China when Japan was defeated in the war.
In 2010, tensions rose between the two countries after Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that rammed two Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the islands. Beijing denounced the arrest and halted exports of rare earths to Japan needed for high-tech industries. But the history issue was not clearly raised in that flare-up.
Li's latest remark indicates that Beijing now intends to use the history issue to win international support, especially from Asian nations that were invaded by Japan, and to solidify internal cohesion.
"There is no denying such an intention," said a researcher at a Chinese government-affiliated think tank. "There used to be a tacit understanding in China that the Diaoyu issue should not be amplified, but that premise was annulled by Japan's repeated provocations."
On Sept. 13, anti-Japan protests continued outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. The number of participants swelled to about 300 at one point.
There are now calls on the Internet to hold anti-Japanese protests across China on Sept. 18, the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident, which led to Japan's establishment of a puppet state in northeastern China.
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