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Editorial: Don’t let UNESCO memory heritage list be used for political purposes

  • October 19, 2016
  • , The Japan News , 8:03 p.m.
  • English Press

Anti-Japan propaganda at an international organization is not acceptable. Japan needs to send out a clear message on this point.


Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan has deferred payment of its roughly ¥4.4 billion in financial contributions and other expenses to UNESCO this year.


The delay — half a year later compared with usual years — is believed to be aimed at urging UNESCO to make efforts to reform its Memory of the World Register system.


In October last year, “Documents of Nanjing Massacre,” which China recommended to UNESCO, were added to the Memory of the World list. The documents include many materials that are considered questionable in terms of historical study based on factual evidence, such as some that put the number of victims in the Nanjing Incident at “more than 300,000.”


It is strongly believed that China has gone on the offensive to create anti-Japan propaganda in the name of protection of cultural properties.


There are problems with the Memory of the World Register system in that the listing selection process is conducted behind closed doors and the appointment of selection committee members is also opaque.


When China recommended the documents to UNESCO, Japan pointed out that the aim was “to use the international organization for political purposes.” Since the documents were registered on the list, Japan has also demanded that UNESCO review the system of the Memory of the World Register.


It is natural that the Japanese government is taking various opportunities to seek the neutrality and fairness of the selection process.


An executive committee of UNESCO adopted a resolution to improve the system in April and has started hearing opinions from each member country.


Disseminate assertions


However, as concrete measures to improve the system are nowhere in sight, it is difficult to say that Japan’s efforts to push for the reform are working effectively.


It is questionable that the government has not presented clear reasons for not paying the contributions to UNESCO. At a press conference, Kishida only said, “It was because we made a comprehensive judgment.”


It may be that the government is not revealing the reasons because it does not want them to be taken as clear pressure on UNESCO. But after the registration of the documents in the list in autumn last year, then Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hiroshi Hase said, “The contributions come from taxes the public pays,” indicating his view that securing the transparency of the system is a condition for paying the contributions.


As long as there are justifiable reasons, shouldn’t Japan widely disseminate its assertions?


Japan’s contributions to UNESCO account for 9.7 percent of the total, the biggest share after the 22 percent of the United States — which itself has stopped payment in opposition to the approval of Palestine’s membership.


Delaying the payment further could pose an obstacle to UNESCO activities, and there is also a fear that China would strengthen its influence.


This year, a private organization comprising people from Japan, China, South Korea and others applied to UNESCO for the registration of materials related to the issue of the so-called comfort women. UNESCO will likely decide whether to register the materials on the list by October next year.


A situation in which a memory heritage system would again be utilized for anti-Japan propaganda should be prevented. In order to urge UNESCO to improve the system, it is necessary for Japan to get its assertions out to the world and evoke international opinions about reforms.

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