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May 29, 2017

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China and Japan engage in war of words in international newspapers

WASHINGTON--China and Japan are engaged in a war of words that is lighting up editorial pages around the world as Beijing takes aim at a recent visit by Japan's leader to a controversial war shrine and Tokyo answers back.

Japan's ambassador to the U.S. fired the latest salvo Friday, accusing China of a global propaganda campaign that portrays Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as glorifying Japan's militaristic past.

"It is not Japan that most of Asia and the international community worry about; it is China," Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae wrote in The Washington Post.

The dueling opinion pieces, appearing in a growing number of newspapers around the world, come as both nations have been criticized for recent actions: China's declaration of an air defense zone over a disputed area of the East China Sea and the Japanese prime minister's visit to Yasukuni, where convicted World War II war criminals are among the many enshrined.

Chinese diplomats have been especially blunt. Ambassadors have accused Abe of "a gross trampling upon world peace and human conscience" on the Pacific island of Vanuatu, having "put the international community on high alert" in Australia and doing something akin to "laying a wreath at Hitler's bunker" in Madagascar.

The most headlining-grabbing exchange to date was in Britain's Daily Telegraph, where the ambassadors of China and Japan compared each other's nations, in some shape or form, to the evil Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter books.

Beyond trying to win over world opinion, the pieces are also an attempt to placate nationalist opinion at home.

The antipathy between Japan and China is rooted in Japan's occupation of parts of China, often brutally, in the first half of the 20th century. But ties have been especially strained since Tokyo in 2012 nationalized some unoccupied islands it administers in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Beijing. That touched off nationalist sentiments in China, which viewed the step as a change in the status quo and stepped up military patrols. For its part, Japan refuses to even acknowledge that's there's a territorial dispute.

The two nations' security forces have steered clear of outright confrontation around the islands, known as Senkaku by Japan and Diayou by China, so war appears a distant possibility. It would be ruinous to both their economies, which are deeply interconnected.

But the propaganda battle is a serious one.

According to Japanese officials, China has posted articles in nearly 40 countries, and Japan has so far responded in a dozen of them, with more planned.

China began the op-ed offensive days after Abe's Dec. 26 visit to the Yasukuni shrine, the first by a Japanese prime minister since 2006. The visit angered China and the two Koreas, where occupying Japanese forces committed atrocities before and during World War II. The visit also drew a rare expression of disapproval by the U.S. of its Japanese ally.

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