BEIJING (Reuters) - Officials in northeast China demolished a memorial to Japanese immigrants to allay a public outcry over its construction last month, state media said on Monday, a sign of lingering anti-Japanese sentiment in the region once occupied by Japan.
The 3.8-metre high memorial wall was emblazoned with the names of 229 Japanese immigrants who were among the thousands settled in Heilongjiang province by Japan’s government during its World War Two-era occupation.
An official said the memorial to the immigrants who died of hunger following Japan’s surrender was a mark of the Chinese people’s humanness.
But residents in Fangzheng county where the memorial was erected criticised officials for wasting public funds to commemorate invaders, the official English-language China Daily newspaper said.
Last week, five men from around China travelled to the province to smash the wall with hammers and splash it with red paint, a public show of anger that led authorities to tear down the memorial on Friday night.
“The local government should tell the public which official proposed such a silly idea of establishing a memorial wall for invaders, and it should apologise for misusing 500,000 yuan in taxpayers’ money,” Chen Fule, one of the protesters, told the newspaper.
Chen and the others who defaced the wall were arrested but released later the same day.
An official from the county’s foreign affairs office said during an interview with state broadcaster CCTV — later published by the official Xinhua news agency — that the wall had been constructed both to expose Japan’s crimes and commemorate as many as 5,000 Japanese who died of hunger after its surrender.
“First is to display the humane spirit of the Chinese people, and second is to expose the evils of Japanese militarism. You could say this is a living testimony,” the official, Wang Weixin, said before the wall was destroyed.
But a sceptical public has complained that the memorial, built in the Sino-Japanese Friendship Garden, had been an effort to attract Japanese investment to the region.
Millions of Chinese soldiers and civilians died in the war and under a brutal Japanese occupation of parts of China from 1931 to 1945, lingering sources of bitterness that at times still hamper official relations.
Ties between Asia’s two biggest economies have been strained in recent years over territorial disputes covering seabeds that could contain valuable energy resources.
That has provided kindling for persistent anti-Japanese sentiment and demonstrations by nationalist groups urging Beijing to take a harder line on Japan.
Unnerved by China’s growing military might, Japan issued a defence white paper last week that warned of increasing Chinese naval activity near its waters.
Beijing accused Japan of deliberately exaggerating China’s military threat, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu alluded to painful memories of the Japanese occupation when he urged Japan to “use history as its guide” and do more to enhance trust with its neighbours.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Sally Huang; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani