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Tokyo tight-lipped over Beijing's show of military force marking end of WWII -

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MARK COLVIN: And the reaction from Japan has been subdued.

The government issued a very short statement saying China should not dwell on the past but look towards the future.

North Asia correspondent Matthew Carney joins me on the line from Tokyo.

MARK COLVIN: So, what have they said? It's very, very quiet there.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Yeah, very quiet. I mean really nothing, it was a very, very short statement from the cabinet secretary who literally said that.

But it's not really a big issue here. I mean most ordinary Japanese are largely ignorant of the war crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army's occupation of China, and as we've heard, the 10 million killed and there were barbaric war crimes here.

I mean there's the horrendous chemical and biological attacks on civilians and soldiers and of course, you know, the infamous rape and pillage of Nanjing.

But the Japanese are not taught this history, it's just simply not part of their curriculum.

MARK COLVIN: It's completely unlike, in that sense, it's completely unlike Germany, which around the 60s and 70s totally revamped its education system so that everybody would know about the Holocaust.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Absolutely, and when you go the step further and you talk to Japanese about it they act surprised that the Chinese have this intensity of feeling, some of them are really dumbstruck by it.

They just have no idea, it is quite surprising.

MARK COLVIN: But you just mentioned that in what they call Manchukuo, there were these horrible chemical experiments for instance and there were atrocities that really have been covered up in Japan.

MATTHEW CARNEY: There have been and you just have to look at Unit 731.

I mean these were absolutely horrendous - the biological warfare, spreading the bubonic plague on entire villages of a 100,000, the live human experimentations, are really on a scale that is not known.

And of course what happened at the Tokyo tribunals is that the Americans cut a deal here and said, give us your research and you'll get clemency which happened because the Americans wanted to use that research.

So it was further buried; it really hasn't been dealt with, this past at all in this country.

MARK COLVIN: But it does keep coming up over the long period that I've been doing this program.

I have the impression that it comes up every now and then and usually the way it comes up is through somebody in Japan denying that one of these things happened, or of course a prime minister going to the Yasukuni Shrine, where among other people, some war criminals are buried.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Yeah, absolutely and prime minister Shinzo Abe has been a very central part of this.

He spent the last two years really questioning and in fact ordering reviews of, you know, did the Japanese Imperial Army use comfort women? Were they forced?

Did the rape and pillage of Nanjing ever happen? And it seems he's serving his far-right audience here which some people say he's very much a part of.

And the irony here is that the further we move away, 70 years from World War II, the more it defines the relationships between China, Japan and South Korea and prime minister Abe seems intent on really picking those sores open and many people say it's really a lose-lose situation here because they're just going to antagonise South Korea and China.

MARK COLVIN: Thank you very much Matthew, and of course all that taking place against the backdrop of China's increasing militarisation in the area.