The activities of an international institution have been unilaterally used as anti-Japan propaganda. Such a situation should not be allowed in the future, too.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has shelved the inclusion of “documents on comfort women” in its Memory of the World Register, applied for by civic groups of countries including Japan, China and South Korea.
The government had called on UNESCO to exercise restraint in dealing with the documents, arguing that their application to be registered is a political matter. Such diplomatic efforts have proved successful. It was natural for Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to praise the UNESCO decision as “appropriate.”
In 2015, UNESCO registered “Documents of Nanjing Massacre” submitted by China. The documents include historical materials that refer to the number of victims in the Nanjing Incident as exceeding 300,000. The figure has been regarded as excessive from an empirical research viewpoint, raising questions about the value and fairness of the Memory of the World Register.
The screening process by the International Advisory Committee is not open. The panel consists mainly of archives experts. It has been pointed out that the committee also lacks the attitude and ability to scrutinize the credibility of submitted documents by comparing them with other historical materials.
In the submitted documents, there are not a few materials that are insufficient for confirming facts and verification, such as minutes of the testimonies and paintings based on the memories of former comfort women. If the documents were registered, the misconception that comfort women were recruited forcibly by the former Imperial Japanese Army to work as sex slaves would be feared to spread.
Don’t break deal with Japan
UNESCO eventually rectified the registration system last month. The screening of items over which the relevant countries have conflicting views will be postponed until after differences are worked out. The decision likely took into account the revision of the screening system.
The United States announced its withdrawal from UNESCO last month, citing political bias and stagnation in its organizational reform. There are numerous criticisms from various quarters about the way UNESCO has been managed.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova will resign this month when her term ends. Her successor, Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister, is called on to display leadership and push reform forward.
It cannot be overlooked that the South Korean government has supported the registration of documents on comfort women. This blatantly runs counter to the spirit of the Japan-South Korea agreement reached in 2015 to resolve the issue of comfort women that calls for the two nations to “refrain from accusing or criticizing each other in the international community, including at the United Nations.”
Seoul’s move is a “deliberate” act of betrayal that marks one step ahead from its “tacit approval” of the installation of comfort woman statues by a South Korean civic group.
“Three Stelae of Kozuke Province,” or Kozuke Sampi in Gunma Prefecture, and documents on Korean missions to Japan that were submitted by civic organizations of Japan and South Korea have recently been included in the Memory of the World Register.
Both entries are historical materials that represent exchanges between ancient Japan and the continent via the Korean Peninsula, and thus meet UNESCO’s original purpose of preserving and utilizing important documents and other materials. Those should be passed on to the future as items of precious cultural heritage.