BEIJING (Reuters) - China will welcome all national leaders to a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, the foreign minister said on Sunday, the strongest sign yet that it could invite wartime enemy Japan.
Sino-Japan relations have long been poisoned by what China sees as Japan's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of the country before and during the war, and it rarely misses an opportunity to remind its people and the world of this.
In the last two years, ties have also deteriorated sharply because of a dispute over a chain of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, though Chinese and Japanese leaders met last year in Beijing to try to reset relations.
But the remarks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi come as the two countries plan to hold their first security talks in four years in Tokyo on March 19, an indication of a possible improvement in strained ties.
"Our goal is to remember history, commemorate the martyrs, cherish peace and look to the future," Wang said of the parade at a briefing on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament.
"We will extend the invitation to the leaders of all relevant countries and international organizations. No matter who it is, as long as they come in sincerity, we welcome them," Wang said in response to a question about whether Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be invited.
China's foreign ministry previously had said only that it would invite major participants in the war and other countries in the region to the parade.
It had been adamant that the show would not be an attempt by China's growing military to "flex muscles", though experts see the parade as largely directed at Japan.
The parade, likely to be held in September, will be Chinese President Xi Jinping's first since he took over as Communist Party and military chief in late 2012 and as state president in early 2013. He will also hold a reception and a gala during the event.
Wang said Japan needed to check its conscience about its wartime history.
"Seventy years ago Japan lost the war. Seventy years later, Japan should not lose its conscience. Will it continue to carry the baggage of history or will it make a clean break with past aggression?" he said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)