China's tourism authority has called for a boycott of a Japanese hotel chain just days before the week-long Lunar New Year break after the hospitality group denied the 1937 Nanking Massacre and refused to withdraw a book placed in its rooms with its version, triggering a furor in the world's second largest economy and imperiling tourism flows to Japan.
Writing under the pen name Seiji Fuji, Tokyo-based hotel and real estate developer APA Group president Toshio Motoya said that stories of the Nanjing massacre were "impossible": "These acts were all said to be committed by the Japanese army, but this is not true," he wrote.
The book in Japanese and English is placed in APA hotel rooms across the chain's 400 establishments and Motoya has refused to pull them out even amid Chinese anger, triggering calls to boycott the hotel in the last week since the issue surfaced.
In a statement available on its Chinese language website on Tuesday, the China National Tourism Administration's spokesman Zhang Lizhong said APA's approach was a "blatant provocation of Chinese tourists".
"We call on Chinese groups and the many tourists who visit Japan to resist APA's wrong approach and avoid spending money at this hotel," he said.
China says Japanese troops killed 300,000 people in the city (now Romanized as Nanjing) in 1937 during the second Sino-Japanese War. A post-war Allied tribunal put the death toll at about half that. Some conservative Japanese politicians and academics deny the massacre took place, or they put the death toll much lower, angering China.
The Chinese foreign affairs ministry has also weighed in on the issue surrounding APA hotel numerous times in the past week since the controversy broke, urging Japan to acknowledge history.
"China is willing to have friendly interactions with Japan,but will never tolerate flagrant provocations distorting the history and offending the Chinese people. Whoever does so shall pay the price for their unscrupulous actions," Chinese foreign affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at its regular press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The current controversy highlights the sensitivity of relations in East Asia amid a rising China, which turbocharged economy propelled it from poverty to the position of the world's second largest economy in just three decades.
The burgeoning Chinese middle-class market is a key demographic for the hospitality business globally and Japan is popular travel destination for many Chinese. The Lunar New Year break in particular, is a peak travel season, with some 6 million outbound travelers expected from mainland China this year, according to China's tourism administration.
Japan attracted about 6.3 million tourists from China last year, the largest such bloc of visitors, up nearly 28 percent from 2015.
The privately-held APA Group has not responded to the most recent development but released a lengthy statement on Jan. 17 defending its position.
"Although we acknowledge that historic interpretation and education vary among nations, please clearly understand that the book is not aimed to criticize any specific state or nation, but for the purpose of letting readers learn the fact-based true interpretation of modern history," the hospitality group said.
"Therefore,we have no intention to withdraw this book from our guest rooms, no matter how many (denunciations) may be made about it from whatever viewpoint. Japan constitutionally guarantees freedom of speech and no one-sided pressures could force any assertion made get repealed," it added.
It is unclear if Chinese travelers will change their plans just days ahead of week-long Lunar New Year public holidays but APA president Motoya seems unfazed.
He had previously told Reuters Chinese tourists only made up 5 percent of the chain's customers in Japan and that he did not expect the row to affect the hotel.
Reuters contributed to this article.