China urges boycott of Japanese hotel chain at centre of spat over war crimes

Book stocked in rooms at APA hotels questions death toll from Rape of Nanking in 1937

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:39pm

With only days to go before the Lunar New Year holiday unleashes hordes of travellers, China’s tourism officials are calling for a boycott of a Japanese hotel chain that stocks its rooms with a book questioning the death toll in the Rape of Nanking.

The book is by Seiji Fuji, the pen name for Toshio Motoya, CEO of the Tokyo-based APA hotel chain. The book contains a paragraph that calls into question the toll of 300,000 dead during the 1937 massacre of Chinese civilians by the Japanese military. Japanese nationalists have long said far fewer died, or denied outright that there was a massacre.

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The controversy came to a head over the past week after a video was posted online – subtitled in Chinese and narrated by a woman, presumably a hotel guest – that brought attention to the offending text.

Zhang Lizhong, the spokesman for China’s National Tourism Administration, has urged individual Chinese tourists to join the boycott, adding in a statement: “We demand that all operators with international tours and online platforms completely stop all cooperation with this hotel chain.”

Travel sites popular with tourists from China, such as tuniu.com, Ctrip.com and qunar.com, have dropped APA properties, news reports say.

In response to a formal complaint from Beijing last week, the chain, which operates 400-plus hotels, issued a statement.

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“Although we acknowledge that historic interpretation and education vary among nations, please clearly understand that the book is not aimed to criticise any specific state or nation,” it read in part.

“Therefore, we have no intention to withdraw this book from our guest rooms. Japan constitutionally guarantees freedom of speech and no one-sided pressures could force any assertion [to] get repealed.”

Over the past few years, Japan’s economy has been buoyed by a tourism boom, with Chinese forming the largest national group of visitors. Last year, 6 million visited Japan, compared to nearly 5 million the year before.

Since the 1980s, attempts by Tokyo to revise textbooks to downplay the Nanjing atrocities and visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine, which memorialises war criminals along with other war dead, have stoked resentment in China.

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In 2015, after decades of relative silence on the matter from Beijing, the National People’s Congress instituted the first ever memorial day for those who perished during the Japanese invasion that began in 1932.

In November of the same year, China applied successfully to inscribe the Nanjing massacre in world heritage body Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

And in 1998, former president Jiang Zemin, on the first visit to Tokyo by a Chinese head of state, demanded a written apology for wartime atrocities from his Japanese counterpart. It has yet to materialise.