A Chinese campaign to have documents related to Japan’s use of wartime sex slaves and its bloody invasion of Nanjing recognised by Unesco has sparked a new round of diplomatic tension between Beijing and Tokyo.
A Unesco panel in Abu Dhabi will announce on Friday successful nominations for inclusion in the UN body’s Memory of the World programme, amid efforts by Japanese officials to block the bid.
Japan lodged protests after China asked Unesco to recognise items relating to the Rape of Nanjing, in which tens of thousands of people died after Japanese troops invaded the southern Chinese city in December 1937.
Tokyo has questioned the authenticity of Chinese archival materials related to the incident, and to an estimated 200,000 women, mainly from the Asian mainland, who were forced to work in wartime brothels.
The two countries adhere to dramatically contrasting accounts of the Rape of Nanjing.
While Chinese historians claim that Japanese imperial army troops killed more than 300,000 soldiers and civilians in a six-week rampage, some Japanese historians insist the number was much lower.
Japan’s official position is that “the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred”, but that “it is difficult to determine” the actual number of victims.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said he regretted China’s decision. “It seeks to unnecessarily emphasise a negative legacy from a certain period in the past involving Japan and China,” he told reporters.
“When Japan and China are making efforts to improve relations, China is trying to use Unesco for political purposes. It is quite regrettable.”
Unesco’s director-general, Irina Bokova, will study the recommendations of a 14-member panel before deciding which of more than 80 nominations should go on the register.