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China tells Japan to set down historical baggage as 70th anniversary of war end approaches

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BEIJING — China's foreign minister renewed calls Sunday for senior Japanese leaders to abandon any attempt to water down their nation's guilt over its World War II aggression against China and others.

Looking ahead to this year's 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Wang Yi told reporters at an annual briefing that history continues to haunt relations between Beijing and Tokyo. He said Japanese leaders had to choose whether to keep those feelings raw or to put history behind them.

"Seventy years ago, Japan lost the war. Seventy years afterward, Japan must not lose its conscience," Wang said. "Will it continue to carry the baggage of history or will it make a clean break with past aggression? Ultimately the choice is Japan's."

Japan launched a full-bore assault on China in 1937, withdrawing only after its surrender at the end of World War II in 1945. Many if not most Chinese believe Japan has never shown true contrition for its brutal occupation that China claims caused the deaths of 14 million people and massive population displacement as refugees fled the Japanese army and set back the country's embryonic modernization by decades.

PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, confers with a moderator at a press conference in Beijing, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Wang renewed calls for Japanese leaders to abandon any attempt to water down the nation’s guilt over its World War II aggression against China and others. Wang said that history continues to haunt relations between Beijing and Tokyo. He said Japanese leaders should drop their historical baggage and make a clean break with Japan’s militaristic past. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, confers with a moderator at a press conference in Beijing, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Wang renewed calls for Japanese leaders to abandon any attempt to water down the nation’s guilt over its World War II aggression against China and others. Wang said that history continues to haunt relations between Beijing and Tokyo. He said Japanese leaders should drop their historical baggage and make a clean break with Japan’s militaristic past. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

China intends to mark the 70th anniversary of the war's end with a military parade and other grand commemorations, fueling fears in Japan that it is attempting to belittle its post-war contributions to development and security.

However, Wang said China's goal was to "remember history, commemorate the martyrs, cherish peace and look to the future." He said invitations to the events would be extended to "all relevant countries and international organizations," and said China welcomed the participation of "anyone who is sincere about coming."

Japan issued a landmark apology on the 50th anniversary of the war's end 1995 under then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, acknowledging for the first time its colonization and aggression in parts of Asia before and during the war. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also apologized.

However, substantial questions surround plans by current hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to issue a statement on the Aug. 15 anniversary, fueling speculation that he may water down previous apologies.

A key question is whether Abe will use terms such as "colonial rule" and "aggression" that appeared in previous statements. He recently appointed a 16-member panel — 10 academics, three business leaders, two journalists and an international aid worker — to seek advice on what he should say.

Among those panelists, Masashi Nishihara, head of a national security think tank, has written that reports of the Japanese military's use of sex slaves during the war were "fabricated in South Korea." Entrepreneur Yoshito Hori says the war was one of self-defense, not aggression.

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