China won’t make the second world war a key part of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Germany this month, Beijing’s envoy to Berlin said on Thursday, but he added that he thought Germans were fine about China using use their contrition over the war as an example against Japan.
Three diplomatic sources told reporters last month that China wanted to make the war a focus of Xi’s trip, much to Berlin’s discomfort, as Beijing tries to use German atonement for its wartime past to embarrass Japan.
China has increasingly contrasted Germany and its public remorse for the Nazi regime with Japan, where repeated official apologies for wartime suffering are sometimes undercut by contradictory comments by conservative politicians.
Ties between the two Asian rivals worsened when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, which China sees as a symbol of Tokyo’s past militarism because it honours wartime leaders along with millions of war dead.
Speaking on the sidelines of the National Peoples Congress, China’s annual meeting of parliament, China’s ambassador in Berlin, Shi Mingde, said it “did not accord with reality” to say China wanted the war to be a focus for Xi’s visit, although he did not rule out that Xi would mention it.
“You’ll know when it happens. All issues can be talked about,” Shi told a small group of reporters.
No dates have been announced for the visit, which the Beijing-based diplomatic sources said would also include France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The sources had said Germany did not want to get dragged into the dispute between China and Japan, and disliked China constantly bringing up Germany’s painful past.
Shi added that he’d never heard of Germans complaining about feeling uncomfortable with China favourably comparing Germany to Japan.
“I’ve been in Germany all along talking with Germans about this, and nobody said this to me,” he said.
“The Germans have never kicked up a fuss ... This is the difference between Germans and Japanese, how they face up to history. The whole world knows that.”
Japanese leaders have repeatedly apologised for suffering caused by the country’s wartime actions, including a landmark 1995 apology by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama. But recent remarks by conservative politicians have cast doubt on Tokyo’s sincerity.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, commenting last month on China’s comparison of Germany and Japan, said Tokyo would continue to tread a peaceful path and that it was China’s recent provocative actions in the region that were raising concerns. Sino-Japanese ties are also plagued by a bitter territorial dispute.
Asked if Xi would visit any war memorials while in Germany, Shi said the agenda was still being discussed.
“The impression you’ve got and the impression I’ve got is different. The Germans have not said that we should not talk about history,” Shi said.
“They’ve said that history should be faced up to, the facts faced. There’s no problem here - everyone thinks this. There’s no disagreement.”