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Japanese Official Decried over Nanking Claim
A senior Japanese politician drew rebukes from Beijing and Seoul on Sunday for playing down the so-called Rape of Nanking and Japan's annexation of Korea -- and reopening old wounds from his nation's militaristic past.

The blowup could prove an embarrassment for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government ahead of the Aug. 15 anniversary of the 1945 end of World War II.

Takami Eto, a 78-year-old three-time Cabinet minister who leads the third-largest faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, dismissed as "a big lie" estimates that the Japanese army killed as many as 300,000 civilians during the 1937-38 occupation of the Chinese city of Nanjing, then called Nanking.

"To say 300,000 people were killed in the Rape of Nanking is a pure fabrication, a big lie," Eto was quoted as saying Saturday in a speech to a local party chapter, according to the Asahi newspaper and other national dailies.

Some Japanese nationalist scholars and conservative lawmakers say the figures are inflated; some even call the entire massacre a hoax. A museum at a shrine to Japan's war dead says the people of Nanking were "once again able to live their lives in peace" after the Japanese army took over the city.

Eto also was quoted as saying Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of Korea should not be considered a colonial conquest because both sides signed a treaty of annexation "that was approved unconditionally by the United Nations" -- a body that did not come into existence until the end of World War II.

Eto has caused controversy before for similar remarks. Neither he nor his aides could be reached Sunday to confirm the statements. The Japanese government made no public comment.

China accused Eto of trying to whitewash history.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said there was "ironclad evidence" that the Nanking massacre was "an atrocity committed by Japanese militarism during the war of aggression in China."

Any attempts to "distort or deny history" would be unsuccessful, the spokesman said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official warned that a failure to come to grips with the past could set back future relations between the two neighbors.

"Our government want to make it clear that such remarks will not help South Korea-Japan relations," the official said on condition of anonymity. "We once again emphasize that without Japan's correct understanding of history, it is difficult to sincerely develop relations between the two countries."

In 1995, Eto was forced to resign his Cabinet post as minister for coordination after saying Japan did "some good things" when it ruled Korea as a colony between 1910 and 1945.

Conservative politicians periodically rile Japan's neighbors by defending the country's record of aggression during the decades leading up to World War II.

In 1994, then-Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano had to resign after calling the Rape of Nanking a "fabrication."

(China Daily July 14, 2003)

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