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China, Japan clash at UN over Hiroshima commemoration

Beijing's delegates to UN disarmament conference say Tokyo counterparts aim to portray Japan as WWII victim

A Chinese United Nations delegation is trying to block Japanese counterparts from pushing for world leaders to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the latest spat between China and Japan over their respective World War II legacies.

Parties to the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, who are set to release a report on the outcome of their ongoing month-long meeting when it closes on May 22, had in the text invited world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki for anniversary events in August. But on Tuesday, Chinese and Japanese delegates butted heads over the portion of the document that would commemorate the Aug. 6 and 9 bombings that killed at least 129,000 people in the two Japanese cities in 1945 and devastated successive generations with physical and emotional trauma.

“There were discussions in one of the main committees as to whether or not there should be specific mention of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and an invitation to visit those cities in the draft report of that group,” said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N.’s Office for Disarmament Affairs. “Some objected to it, saying that there were other aspects of the Second World War that might deserve mention too.”

The Chinese U.N. delegation’s Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, Fu Cong, told Japan’s Kyodo News agency that he opposed the remarks on the bombings because Tokyo is “trying to portray Japan as a victim of the Second World War, rather than a victimizer.” The Chinese Mission to the U.N. had not responded to a request for further comment at time of publication.

A spokesman for the Japanese delegation told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity that, contrary to the Chinese ambassador’s statement, “there’s no intention other than to just let people know what happened that year. That’s very important toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons.”

“This is the aim of our proposal,” the spokesman said. “That’s our aim. That’s it.”

The outcome of the heated dialogue is expected next week.

“It remains to be seen what language on this and many other aspects will be in the final report. And we won’t know that until much later next week, when the delegates further negotiate the full, final text covering all aspects of the Treaty,” Buchanan said.

The Japanese representatives “will do our best to include” the mention of the bombings in the final version of the document, the delegation spokesman said. 

Beijing and Tokyo have in recent years exchanged heated rhetoric over Japanese schoolbooks and other historical accounts of Japan’s role in World War II, and over a chain of islands claimed by both countries. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has faced increasing pressure from his conservative constituency to counter China's growing military influence across the region, particularly in light of Beijing's worsening territorial disputes with Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan over the South China Sea. 

Analysts say Japan’s World War II invasion and massacres continue to serve an important political purpose for China's ruling Communist Party — a situation that also adds fuel to the disputes between Beijing and Tokyo. Memories of the early Chinese Communist Army’s triumph over the Japanese “serve as a major foundation of the Party’s legitimacy from the very beginning of the People’s Republic,” Zhu Zhiqun, director of Bucknell University’s China Institute told Al Jazeera after a much-touted meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Abe at the November 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Both Japan and China have been known to invest public resources into promoting accounts that critics say twist or exploit history to push political agendas.

For example, a museum located beside Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine — a war memorial that honors 14 Class-A war criminals among other Japanese veterans — lauds the efforts of the Japanese military in liberating much of Asia from Western imperialists.

Also, a museum at Beijing’s Marco Polo Bridge was constructed to commemorate Chinese killed at the hands of Japanese — but critics say it more prominently glorifies the role of the Chinese Communist army in defending China, in an effort to lend credibility to the party.

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