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By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - China has posted documents online it says are personal accounts of wartime atrocities committed by Japan in China, the latest in a wave of anti-Japan propaganda efforts that comes after Tokyo ended a ban on its military from fighting abroad.
The 45 "confessions" show Beijing's efforts to gain an upper hand in a war of words with Tokyo amid frictions over China's military rise and a bitter territorial dispute at sea.
China's Central Archives plans to post one "confession" per day on its website, http://18.104.22.168/rbzf/. In an effort to appeal to Western countries in its propaganda offensive, English translations would accompany the postings.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet took a historic step away from Japan's post-war pacifism on Tuesday by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since 1945, a move that riled China but was welcomed by the United States.
Li Minghua, a deputy director-general at China's Central Archives, told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday that the documents, previously published but not posted online, were aimed at correcting what he called Abe's attempt to "whitewash" history.
"Since the Abe cabinet came into power in Japan, it has openly confused right and wrong to mislead the public in an attempt to whitewash the history of external aggression and colonialism," Li said.
The documents, taken from post-war Chinese trial records, are "irrefutable evidence of the heinous crimes committed by the Japanese militarist aggressors against the Chinese people", Li said.
After World War Two, China tried and jailed the 45 Japanese prisoners detailed in the documents for serious offences, including the use of poison gas, rape, and murder, Li said.
The first set of documents released described the actions of Suzuki Keiku, a one-time Japanese lieutenant-general whose forces allegedly were responsible for at least 5,470 civilian deaths, hundreds of rapes and the intentional spread of cholera to village water sources between 1934 and 1945.
When the prisoners were tried in the 1950s, China's courts were already under the control of the ruling Communist Party, diminishing the prospect of a fair trial. It is unclear if the documents amounted to forced confessions.
REMEMBERING THE PAST
In recent months China has worked hard to convince the world of its viewpoint that Japan's war-era militarism is directly linked to its current military buildup, sponsoring media tours of museums and monuments around the country.
China's ties with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.
China consistently reminds its people of Japan's historical brutality, such as the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in which China says Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in the then national capital. A postwar Allied tribunal put the death toll at 142,000, but some conservative Japanese politicians and scholars deny a massacre took place.
Abe has elicited harsh criticism from China for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are honoured along with war dead.
Deteriorating relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been fuelled by a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising fears of a clash.
But the Chinese public is not allowed unfettered access to the tightly managed government archives and the Communist Party still suppresses any effort to document or publicise calamities of its own making, including the starvation of tens of millions following Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward.
When asked if the government would release documents related to the 1958-1961 Great Leap Forward and the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, Li looked flustered and declined to directly address the issue, but said there were laws and regulations regarding archives.
Reference to those events in the question were deleted from the online transcript of Li's briefing.
(Reporting by Michael Martina)