The conservative Japanese daily the Yomiuri Shimbun has accused China of dragging Japan into a media "cold war" and trying to alienate it from the international community.
The newspaper, a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, launched a series of feature articles on Friday examining the worsening ties between the two regional superpowers, with subsequent stories due to look at “the possible challenges lying ahead”.
In a story headlined “Japan-China Cold War: Tactics using WWII imagery should not go unanswered”, the Yomiuri identified 73 countries, territories and international organisations “where China has conducted anti-Japanese propaganda”.
An analysis of the attacks said they followed a similar pattern, starting out by describing Abe as a “militarist” and “spreading accusations that Japan is a dangerous country”.
The Yomiuri pointed out that several Chinese ambassadors have contributed editorial pieces to push Beijing’s line in national newspapers including The Daily Telegraph in London and The Washington Post.
It said Abe’s visit in December to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japanese war criminals, was being put forward as evidence by Chinese leaders – and echoed in the state-run media – that “Japan still glorifies its wartime past”.
The tactic appeared to be to appeal to nations that fought under the banner of the Allied nations during the second world war, to remind them of the atrocities that took place during the conflict and to demonise modern-day Japan, the newspaper said.
“We cannot afford to make light of China’s fierce propaganda against Japan over historical issues,” it added. “Unless Japan solidly refutes China’s assertions, some people in other countries might accept the criticisms without questioning them or closely examining what has been said.”
The article said Beijing’s campaign had not gone completely smoothly, however, revelling in the reaction when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos in late January.
“When Wang said, ‘China has been a peace-loving country. China has never invaded or bullied others,’ some in the audience snickered in contempt,” the Yomiuri claimed.
Official reaction from the Japanese government to China’s attacks to date has been very muted.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo told the South China Morning Post there was little point in the government replying to every criticism levelled against Japan by Beijing “as it will just lead to claim and counter-claim”.
The official added: “We are hoping that common sense will prevail.”
Tokyo did win a small victory on Wednesday, with The New York Times correcting an editorial it ran on March 2 which was critical of Abe’s plans to withdraw an apology to women forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military in the early decades of the last century.