BEIJING / NANJING - Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura's refusal to take back his denial of the Nanjing Massacre has increased tension between the two cities, with the Chinese city declaring on Tuesday that it would suspend official contacts with its sister city in Japan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed support for Nanjing's decision at a regular news conference on Wednesday.
"We have made our position clear on the Nagoya mayor's denial of the Nanjing Massacre and already lodged a solemn representation to the Japanese side," Hong said, adding that China is closely watching the issue.
As 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic ties, Hong also asked the Japanese side to work on the improvement of bilateral relations in light of the principles enshrined in the four China-Japan political documents, as well as act in the interest of both peoples based on the spirit of learning from history.
Osamu Fujimura, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said at a news conference on Wednesday that the Japanese government thinks "it isn't a issue for the state to interfere in" and the two cities should settle it by themselves.
Fujimura reaffirmed that Tokyo's view on the Nanjing Massacre "has not changed", saying: "It cannot be made impossible that the killing of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred."
Following Kawamura's refusal to take back his previous statement, Hideaki Omura, governor of Aichi Prefecture, on Wednesday called on Kawamura to correct his comments on the Nanjing Massacre as soon as possible, warning that his remarks had created "a diplomatic issue".
Nagoya, the capital city of Aichi Prefecture in central Japan, established a sister-city relationship with Nanjing in December 1978.
But its current mayor annoyed Nanjing by telling a visiting official delegation that he doubted the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 ever happened.
The foreign affairs office of Nanjing municipal government said it was "shocked" by his remarks.
"Some Japanese politicians' recurring attempts to deny history have deeply hurt Chinese people's feelings, and influenced healthy and stable Sino-Japanese cooperation."
According to Japan's Kyodo News, the Nagoya government said it felt "terrible regret" about Nanjing's announcement.
According to Asahi News, China's consulate-general in Nagoya called the city's international exchange department to protest, saying that the mayor was "thoughtless" to cast doubts on history based on his individual presumptions over why his father Kaneo Kawamura, a Japanese soldier, was "welcomed" by local residents in Nanjing in 1945.
"We forgive that period of history, but it doesn't mean it can be forgotten, or be denied," said Xia Shuqin, a survivor of the Nanjing Massacre.
Xia was stabbed three times in the massacre, and seven members of her family were killed. Her experience was recorded in the diary of John Rabe, a German businessman well known in China for his great efforts to save Chinese civilians from Japanese troops.
"I hope those Japanese politicians will no longer hurt our feelings," said the 84-year-old.
"I'd like to confront those Japanese people who deny the Nanjing Massacre."
Zhu Chengshan, director of the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, said that a substantial amount of evidence, including text and video material, could prove that the massacre was an undeniable fact.
"The truth cannot be distorted or denied by an individual's assumption," Zhu said.
The Nanjing Massacre took place on Dec 13, 1937, when Japanese troops occupied the then capital of China. More than 300,000 Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers were killed and thousands of women raped.
Roots of the dispute
The dispute began on Monday when Nagoya's Mayor Takashi Kawamura told a visiting delegation from Nanjing that he doubted that the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 ever took place.
Kyodo News Agency reported that Kawamura, whose father was in Nanjing in 1945, said that he believed only "conventional acts of combat" took place there.
"Why were people in Nanjing kind to Japanese soldiers only eight years after the incident?" Kawamura asked, referring to his father's memories. "I could go to Nanjing and attend a debate on the history of the city, if necessary."
Reports said Liu Zhiwei, a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China Nanjing Municipal Committee who led the delegation, didn't challenge the mayor directly at the time. Instead, he said: "Nanjing people still love peace. We need to learn from history and not to continue enmity."
Nanjing established sister-city relations with Nagoya in Japan in 1978.