BEIJING/SHENYANG, China -- When a siren rang at 9:18 a.m. on Saturday to mark the 90th anniversary of a railway bombing by the Imperial Japanese Army, a high-ranking Chinese official was among the attendees.
Zhao Leji, the No. 6 official of the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, was on hand for a ceremony of what is known as the Liutiaohu Incident -- or simply the September 18 Incident -- in Shenyang, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
The rare appearance by a top Communist Party leader at the geopolitically sensitive event was a likely message to Japan, which has been increasingly making statements on the stability of the Taiwan Strait and human rights in Xinjiang, issues Beijing considers internal affairs.
This was the first appearance of a top Chinese official at the ceremony since 2014.
The Imperial Japanese Army blew up a section of the South Manchuria Railway in 1931, made the bombing look like the work of Chinese dissidents and launched a military campaign in response at the Northern Grand Barracks, in an episode remembered as the Manchurian Incident.
"After 14 years of struggle under the leadership of the party, we won a great victory in the anti-Japanese war," Zhao said. "We will maintain a correct view of history, accurately grasp the critical significance of the war against Japan, and gain wisdom to move forward."
At the ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary in 2011, no member of the Politburo Standing Committee attended the event.
The ceremony was held at the 9.18 Historical Museum in the suburbs of Shenyang. The museum had been closed for renovations, but reopened on Saturday to coincide with the anniversary.
The Chinese Communist Party now regards the day of the bombing as the start of the Chinese people's war of resistance against Japanese aggression.
China used to call the Sino-Japanese War "the resistance for 8 years," recognizing the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937 -- a skirmish in a Beijing suburb -- as the start of the war, but recently "the war for 14 years" has become the popular parlance in a nod to the Liutiaohu Incident as the beginning of the conflict.
There is a view that the high level of importance of the Liutiaohu Incident as the starting point of the Sino-Japanese war is behind the attendance of top leadership.
It is also pointed out that anti-Japanese sentiment is growing in China. A commercial complex in Dalian, Liaoning Province, was shut down this month. Although it was only officially opened in August, it was criticized online as an invasion by Japanese culture.
Zhao's attendance at the ceremony also comes as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to attend the first in-person summit of leaders from Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a grouping of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia formed to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.