July 14, 2015 / 6:43 AM / 2 years ago

China historian admits "important" role of Nationalists in war

BEIJING (Reuters) - Nationalist Chinese forces played an “important” role fighting Japan during World War Two, but Communists were the “cornerstone”, a top Communist Party historian said on Tuesday, after Taiwan’s president challenged China’s account of the war.

China is ramping up a propaganda offensive ahead of a September military parade through Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

The outcome of the war and differing interpretations of the history remain a significant factor in relations in East Asia, in particular between China and Japan.

In China’s official narrative, the wartime contribution of Nationalist government troops in battling occupying Japanese troops is hardly mentioned.

Official propaganda focuses almost entirely on the Communist forces, who were also fighting an on-off civil war with the Nationalists.

With Japan beaten, the Chinese civil war resumed in 1945 and Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government fled to the island of Taiwan in 1949 after the Communists took power.

This month, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who is from the Nationalist Party, said it was Nationalist forces who won the war, a fact nobody should distort.

Speaking at a news conference organised by the cabinet’s news department, Li Zhongjie, former deputy head of the Communist Party’s history research office, said Communist forces were the “cornerstone” of the fight.

“In the course of these events, the Communist Party was the cornerstone. The Nationalists also played an important role,” he said.

Last week, China unveiled a major exhibition extolling the party’s role in the fighting, with exhibit captions peppered with references to the reluctance or refusal of the Nationalist Chinese government to fight Japan.

The war anniversary has added to the deep political mistrust between China and Taiwan, despite the signing of landmark economic and trade deals since Ma took power on the island in 2008.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control.

Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robert Birsel

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