TOKYO — Inflaming already tense relations with China, Japanese lawmakers said yesterday they plan to visit a shrine that glorifies Japan’s militarist past, and a Tokyo court ruled against Chinese victims of wartime atrocities.
Such developments ordinarily would only infuriate the Chinese, but in the current atmosphere they could be explosive.
Sometimes-violent anti-Japanese demonstrations involving tens of thousands of protesters have erupted in several Chinese cities in recent weeks over a government-approved Japanese textbook that critics say whitewashes the country’s past militarism.
The protesters, who also oppose Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, smashed windows of Japan’s diplomatic missions in Beijing and Shanghai and damaged Japanese restaurants and cars.
China has refused to apologize or pay compensation, saying Japan sparked the protests by offending the Chinese people.
The textbooks condense or omit references to the Japanese military’s germ warfare and sex slavery of Asian women. They only briefly mention the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, when Japanese soldiers killed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians.
Japan showed no sign of backing off.
Nationalist lawmakers, headed by a former defense minister, announced plans to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, on Friday, an aide to lawmaker Yasu Kano said on the condition of anonymity.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing noted that the dead honored at the Tokyo shrine include executed war criminals, whom he called the “planners and conspirators” of World War II. He called on Japanese leaders to “refrain from doing anything that might harm the feelings of Asian people.”
Also yesterday, the Tokyo High Court rejected demands to compensate Chinese victims of atrocities committed by Japan’s military in the 1930s and ‘40s, including the use of biological weapons, which historians estimate killed as many as 250,000 people.
The ruling upheld a 1999 lower court decision that international law barred foreign citizens from seeking compensation from the Japanese government for wartime actions.
In a related development, it was announced yesterday that China will seek UNESCO World Heritage protection for the ruins of a Japanese World War II germ warfare center called Unit 731, Xinhua news agency reported.
Jin Chengmin, a researcher with the Harbin Academy of Social Sciences, pointed to the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan as precedents for the protection of war ruins by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii is not a UNESCO site.
Located south of Harbin, the laboratories, prisons and crematoria were notorious for experiments on humans to develop germ weapons, such as bubonic plague, typhoid, anthrax and cholera.
At least 3,000 persons, including Chinese civilians, Russians, Mongolians and Koreans, died in the experiments between 1939 and 1945, Xinhua said. Outside the site, more than 200,000 Chinese were killed by biological weapons produced by Unit 731, it said.