This past Saturday, China commenced the first Nanjing Memorial Day, the first time the country officially held a national day of remembrance for the fallen during the Nanjing Massacre.
The ceremony was broadcasted on CCTV state television with the Chinese flag flying half-mast to commemorate the fallen.
President Xi Jinping said that no one can deny the Nanjing Massacre. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, President Xi said that, "Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world."
State media reported that close to 10,000 people attended the ceremony in Nanjing which included prominent Chinese dignitaries like Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the NPC, and Wang Yi, China's foreign minister.
The Nanjing Massacre is an extremely sensitive and unresolved topic for both countries. China repeatedly stresses that Japan has failed to properly atone for the massacre during an unjustified invasion. Japan tends to claim that the Nanjing Massacre was a legitimate act of war during a full-scale war. Chinese emphasizes that the casualty is close to 300,000 during the six-week killing spree by the Japanese military. Japan and some foreign academics contest the number of casualties. China accuses Japan of "whitewashing" its horrendous actions while Japan accuses China of using anti-Japanese sentiments as propaganda. Both sides cannot agree on the number or the ways by which to resolve it amicably.
The decision to implement a Nanjing Memorial Day can not have come at a more difficult time. While Japan and the China have official diplomatic relations for 42 years now, recent events regarding territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Prime Minister Abe's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are seriously straining bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent landslide in the elections further escalates tension between the two powers. Abe is a nationalist and a war hawk. He openly visits the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war "heroes" during World War II, the very same people China wants to perpetually condemn, going so far as to instigate a national day.
President Xi tried to lower the tension by emphasizing that, "We [China] should not bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars." However, it remains to be seen how Japan will react to China's Nanjing Memorial Day.
My bet is on escalating military actions between the two sides. While Japan does not currently have a military due to the consequences of World War II, China's aggressiveness in East China Sea and rapid growth in its military capabilities will create a military arms race between the two countries, especially if both sides are nationalistic and hawkish.