FUKUOKA – A speech by a Japanese student peace ambassador at an international disarmament conference in Geneva in August was canceled due to pressure from the Chinese government, according to Japanese government sources.
The speech by a representative of high school student ambassadors calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons had been delivered at every annual Conference on Disarmament since 2014.
But at the 2017 gathering China objected, citing rules that allow only government officials to speak, the sources said Thursday.
With Beijing having voiced concerns in the past that Tokyo highlighted the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to present itself as a victim of World War II, it is believed that China applied pressure for the speech to be quashed for the same reason.
On the past three occasions when the conference was held, a student ambassador representative dispatched by a Japanese citizens’ group gave a speech by registering as a member of the Japanese government delegation for one day.
Between February and May this year, China, a nuclear power and a member of the conference, urged Japan to cancel the planned speech. Its disarmament ambassador said the delegation could request that the high school student be removed, and that Beijing would pursue the issue if Tokyo continues with the practice, the sources said.
Japan reportedly argued that given the advancing age of survivors, involving younger generations would give added momentum in the international community toward a “world free of nuclear weapons” by spreading understanding about the suffering experienced after the attacks.
According to conference rules, it is necessary to secure a consensus from members to add the high school students as members to a delegation. Japan abandoned its effort to have the student speak because gaining approval was considered to be too difficult.
Instead, a group of 22 high school peace ambassadors was invited to a reception hosted by Japan’s disarmament ambassador, Nobushige Takamizawa, in August.
Nobuto Hirano, a 70-year-old co-representative of the citizens’ group that sponsors the student ambassadors, said the Foreign Ministry had not provided a detailed explanation of why the speech was canceled.
“If pressure from another country was the cause, at least we wanted to receive a full explanation,” Hirano said.
Given that Japan did not join the U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons adopted in July, Hirano had assumed the government canceled the speech because it did not want to draw attention to the issue, he said.
The student peace ambassador program began in 1998 after two high school students in Nagasaki visited the United Nations in New York carrying signatures calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Up to August this year, some 200 students from high schools in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and 15 other prefectures have been selected to serve as peace ambassadors for a year. In recent years, they submitted collected signatures to the U.N. every summer.