The Wall Street, JOSH CHIN in Hong Kong and YOREE KOH in Tokyo
Chinese Internet users are in an uproar after the mayor of Nagoya told a delegation from Nanjing that he doubted Japanese soldiers had committed atrocities during their World War II occupation of the city.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
This is not the first time Takashi Kawamura has raised the thorny subject. Above, Mr. Kawamura spoke at his campaign office in Nagoya on Feb. 6, 2011.
The southern Chinese city of Nanjing suspended contact with Japanese sister city Nagoya on Tuesday night.
The historical scars left by Japan’s wartime occupation remain a flash point in relations between the two East Asian powers. Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine—where Class-A war criminals are enshrined along with the war dead—and revisionist textbooks in Japan that gloss over the country’s military adventurism in Asia have led to large, and sometimes violent, protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.
During a meeting with the delegation on Monday, Takashi Kawamura said he thought the murder of vast numbers of civilians by Japanese troops in Nanjing, commonly known as the Nanjing Massacre, “probably never happened.”
Mr. Kawamura appeared unbowed by the criticism on Wednesday, reiterating his position at a press event in Tokyo.
“Even since I was a national Diet representative, I have said [repeatedly] there was no [Nanjing] massacre that resulted in murders of several hundred thousands of people,” he said, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency. “We need to talk about this publicly without hesitation instead of behind the scenes.”
The comments drew heavy fire from Chinese Internet users, who also attacked the Nanjing delegation for being slow to respond to what many described as an unconscionable insult.
“Nanjing should invite Kawamura Takashi to tour the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall,” one user wrote on popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, where Mr. Kawamura was among the most-discussed topics on Wednesday.
Others, however, directed their ire at Liu Zhiwei, the head of the Nanjing delegation, after Kyodo reported that Mr. Liu shook hands with Mr. Kawamura and didn’t directly challenge his denial of an event often described as Asia’s equivalent to the Holocaust.
“All the ghosts of the Nanjing Massacre are going to come knocking on Liu Zhiwei’s door,” wrote one Weibo user.
The Nanjing city government defended Mr. Liu, telling the state-run Global Times newspaper that the delegation leader “responded to Kawamura’s claims” without offering further details.
The Japanese army captured Nanjing on Dec. 13, 1937. Over the next six weeks, Japanese soldiers murdered between 200,000 and 300,000, according to various historical accounts.
Tokyo’s own estimate for the number of civilian deaths in Nanjing is far less precise, ranging from as little as 20,000 to 200,000.
Nagoya and Nanjing established a sister city relationship in 1978, six years after Japan and China normalized ties.
The Chinese consulate in Nagoya called the Japanese city office on Tuesday to protest the remarks, saying it “cannot understand the mayor’s position.” The consulate also said it is unfortunate such comments were made as the two countries mark the 40th anniversary since the neighbors normalized diplomatic relations.
But the consulate said it hopes the matter can be resolved. “Mayor Kawamura’s remarks are his own, we wonder whether the Nagoya Municipal Office has its own position,” said a consulate spokeswoman on Wednesday.
Tokyo is attempting to stay above the fray for now, with Japan’s Foreign Ministry saying that the dispute is an issue that should be settled between the cities.
Mr. Kawamura said his opinion stemmed from his father’s trip to Nanjing in 1938. Mr. Kawamura said his father was well-received and reasoned that if such murderous acts occurred the people of Nanjing wouldn’t have been so hospitable.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Kawamura has raised the thorny subject. In September 2009, he told the Nagoya City Council the number of people China claimed were killed in Nanking was dubious. The Nagoya city’s department of international exchange said that more recently, in this past December, the mayor made a passing remark to another visiting group from Nanjing suggesting the mass murder never occurred.
The Nanjing Massacre « Talesfromthelou’s Blog