Chinese officials called for deeper ties with Japan on Wednesday as they marked the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre involving Japanese soldiers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping led a citywide minute of silence but did not speak as Yu Zhengsheng, head of China’s parliamentary advisory body, urged China and Japan to draw lessons from history and look forward to the future.

China’s government and a 1946 international postwar tribunal say at least 200,000 civilians were killed by Japanese troops entering China’s then capital in December 1937 following bitter street fighting in Shanghai.

Some right-wing Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have downplayed the death toll or denied outright that the atrocity even happened.

Wearing a white flower on his lapel, Xi watched somberly on Wednesday as Chinese soldiers bearing large funeral wreaths marched slowly past a memorial showing the figure 300,000 — the number of massacre victims, according to official Chinese estimates.

Denial by conservative Japanese quarters of the country’s wartime history has frequently sparked controversies with Asian neighbors that bore the brunt of its militarism and colonial rule, including China, South Korea and the Philippines, and it continues to fuel debate in contemporary Japan.

A Japanese hotel chain attracted condemnation in January when it distributed a book questioning Japan’s use of forced sex workers and calling the Nanking Massacre a fake. Nanking, an ancient Chinese capital 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Shanghai, is now commonly known as Nanjing.

Yu, a former member of the Communist Party’s top leadership circle, did not touch on the historical controversies Wednesday but struck an optimistic note, saying China and Japan share a long, rich history and should promote friendship for generations to come.

China has raised alarms in Asia with its more assertive military and diplomatic posture in recent years, particularly over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But Yu said in his address that Beijing would “never be hegemonic or expansionist.”

“It will never impose the tragic experience that it experienced on other peoples,” he said. – AP