China-Japan tensions rise over Unesco Memory of the World programme

Tokyo wants Beijing to stop entering material relating to wartime atrocities

A sculpture  at the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, China. China applied to Unesco to list material relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and wartime sex slavery the Memory of the World programme. Photograph: China Photos/Getty Images

A sculpture at the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, China. China applied to Unesco to list material relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and wartime sex slavery the Memory of the World programme. Photograph: China Photos/Getty Images

 

Tensions between China and Japan are intensifying again after Beijing accused Tokyo of trying to block China’s application to Unesco to list material relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and wartime sex slavery the Memory of the World programme for documentary heritage.

Earlier this week, a Unesco panel met in the United Arab Emirates to examine 88 nominations for the Memory of the World programme.

Japan has lodged protests against two Chinese nominations, according to a report in Asahi Shimbun, including one about the 200,000 women forced to work as sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women”, in its military brothels for Imperial Japanese troops, and a second application concerning the massacre that accompanied Japan’s invasion of the wartime capital Nanking in 1937.

The documents are all first-hand materials and are divided into three categories: papers, photos and film footage, say Chinese archivists.

The Chinese say more than 300,000 people were killed in “the Rape of Nanking”, although the 1948 Tokyo war crimes tribunal found that Japanese troops killed some 150,000 and some Japanese historians insist the number was much lower.

Tensions are running high between the two Asian giants over what Chinese see as Japan’s failure to sufficiently atone for the suffering it caused during the war. As proof of Japan’s failure to say sorry properly, Beijing points to the regular visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including war criminals and warns repeatedly of Japan’s revived militarism.

Tokyo insists it has made amends and for its part, complains of Beijing’s aggression in pushing its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

“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,”

Guo Biqiang, an official from the Second Historical Archives of China, told the China Daily.

He said how this year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the second World War, which has been observed with huge fanfare in China, including a massive military parade in Beijing.

The conflict is referred to as the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression or the World Anti-Fascist War.

Mr Guo said it would have special meaning for China if the documents could be accepted by Unesco’s Memory of the World register.

“It could remind us of remembering the history and cherishing peace,” he said.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, expressed regret about the Chinese nominations during a news conference in Tokyo.

“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 said, quoted by the Kyodo news agency.

Unesco’s Memory of the World programme, started in 1992, has registered dozens of projects to reflect “documentary heritage”. Documents include the groundbreaking legal document the Magna Carta, Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s diary and an annotated copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

China submitted the wartime documents to the Unesco programme “to prevent the miserable and dark days from coming back again”. Between 13 and 20 million Chinese people died in the conflict, and 100 million were left refugees.