Sino-Japanese relations are once again strained this week over Chinese nominations to the UNESCO Memory of the World program for documentary heritage.
A committee concluded the process of examining submissions for the register yesterday, including two relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and the use of “comfort women” in military brothels during the Japanese occupation. An estimated 300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed combatants were slaughtered in Nanjing and it remains a contentious and hotly debated episode between the two nations.
Japan has overwhelmingly reacted negatively by questioning the documents’ authenticity, and branding them “controversial” and “harmful”. According to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese government repeatedly asked that the nominations be retracted, but this was roundly ignored by Beijing.
Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, gave a news conference in Tokyo last Friday, saying, “When Japan and China are making efforts to improve relations, China is trying to use UNESCO for a political purpose and it is quite regrettable.” He went on to allege that the nominations ”unnecessarily emphasize a negative legacy from a certain period in the past involving Japan and China.”
Speaking on behalf of the Second Historical Archives of China, Guo Biqiang, took a very different stance on the matter and highlighted the special significance of the submission to China and its people, according to China Daily. “This year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War, as well as the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression,” he said. “It could remind us of remembering the history and cherishing peace.” This sentiment echoes the words of China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying last year when the application to UNESCO was initially proposed, as well as Zhu Chengshan, curator of the Memorial Hall of the victims in Nanjing.
Founded in 1992, UNESCO’s Memory of the World program aims to preserve important historical documents for the future and has previously registered among others Britain’s Magna Carta, the diary of Anne Frank and an annotated copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. The committee’s deliberations began on Sunday with a final decision expected to be announced later this week.
by Daniel Paul