Beijing rejected Tokyo's demand on Wednesday to withdraw China's application to UNESCO to include the experience of "comfort women" in the UN body's Memory of the World program.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that the application had been submitted, sparking a response from Tokyo on Wednesday morning when Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denounced the application.
Suga said "it is extremely regrettable" and accused China of "making political use of the UNESCO forum and to unnecessarily play up the negative legacy of ties from a period of the past".
However, revisionist remarks made by prominent Japanese figures in recent months — some explicitly denying that the Japanese wartime army forced Asian women into sexual slavery — have once again prompted global concern.
"Equivocations from senior Japanese politicians — including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — have exacerbated the impression that Tokyo wants the world to forget the horrific practice," AFP commented on Wednesday.
Suga, Tokyo's top spokesperson, also stated that the Japanese side had protested to Beijing in this regard, demanding a withdrawal of the application.
But the response from Beijing was firm.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday: "We will not accept the unreasonable request from Japan and we will not withdraw the application."
She said that China's application to the Memory of the World is "to remember history, protect human dignity and prevent those crimes and atrocities that violate humanity and human rights from happening again".
Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Japanese ruling party has a record of distorting or denying the history of "comfort women", a move that has triggered concerns even from the United States, Japan's traditional ally.
Early in 2007, Yang said, the Japanese cabinet approved a consensus during Abe's first term as prime minister to claim that there is "no substantial evidence" to prove that forcing women into sexual slavery was official wartime government policy.
Earlier this month in Tokyo, "comfort women" and their relatives from South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and China attended the 12th Asian Solidarity Conference on Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
The attendees issued a statement calling for the issue of "comfort women" to be included in Japan's school history textbooks.
Estelita Basbano Dy, an 84-year-old Filipina, was forcibly taken by the Japanese Imperial Army from her hometown when she was 14. She said that she was living proof of what Abe has denied many times and accused the Japanese prime minister of lying.
Liu Junhong, a research scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Abe even publicly expressed opposition to the Murayama Statement before he regained premiership in December 2012.
On Aug 15, 1995, the "Murayama Statement" was released by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. He apologized for the wartime damage and suffering caused by Japan to its Asian neighbors.