ABU DHABI – A UNESCO panel has opened a meeting in the United Arab Emirates to examine about 90 nominations for the Memory of the World program for documentary heritage, including two controversial entries by China.
Among the materials to be screened by the UNESCO International Advisory Committee are two Japanese nominations — Buddhist temple archives and post-World War II internment and repatriation records.
Japan has lodged protests against two Chinese nominations — one about “comfort women” forced to serve at wartime brothels for Imperial Japanese troops and one about the Nanking Massacre.
One of the Japanese nominations encompasses the archives at Toji Temple, called the Toji Hyakugo Monjo (Toji Temple’s 100 boxes of documents), comprise about 25,000 documents from the Nara Period (710-794) to the Edo Period (1603-1868). The collection was designated a National Treasure in 1997.
Another Japanese nomination contains memoirs and drawings composed by former inmates of Siberian labor camps and the lists of those repatriated after the war to Maizuru port in Kyoto.
About 55,000 of the 600,000 Japanese soldiers detained in labor camps in Siberia and Mongolia died from forced labor, severe living conditions and malnutrition.
Japan has questioned the authenticity of the Chinese materials on the comfort women and Japan’s bloody 1937 occupation of what is today called Nanjing.
Japan has asked China to withdraw the nominations, but Beijing has declined to do so, according to Japanese officials.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, expressed regret about the Chinese nominations during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday.
“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.
South Korea is also studying the feasibility of nominating documents related to Korean comfort women and laborers conscripted during the war from the Korean Peninsula, which was then under Japanese colonial rule.
The 14-member UNESCO committee started the meeting Sunday. It is scheduled to run through Tuesday. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova will make decisions on whether to register the nominations based on the committee’s recommendations.
The Memory of the World registration program started in 1997 as the documentary version of UNESCO heritages after the World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage programs.