A government-sponsored exhibition highlighting Japanese sovereignty over islands with disputed claims by China and South Korea opened its doors Thursday, in the Municipal Research Building located in Tokyo.
While the exhibition is likely to draw praise from right-leaning politicians, the opening takes place at a delicate time for Japan’s relations with South Korea, which have undergone see-sawing developments in recent weeks — the positive development of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to visit South Korea for the Olympics, but also the re-emergence of the comfort women dispute.
The collection displays historical documents — including maps, letters and newspaper articles — highlighting the government’s official position that the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima are inherent parts of Japanese territory. Accompanying the documents are supplementary explanations in both Japanese and English.
Tetsuma Esaki, the minister in charge of territorial disputes, also made an appearance to mark the opening of the exhibition.
A 70-year-old resident of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, commented on the materials presented as he looked over some documents. “It is important to debate these topics from an objective point of view using facts,” he said.
The Takeshima islets have in the past created friction between the South Korean and Japanese governments. Controlled by South Korea and referred to as Dokdo, the last major incident regarding the territory took place in 2012 when South Korea President Lee Myung-bak visited one of the islets.
The Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as Diaoyu, are effectively controlled by the Japanese government and have remained a flash point in Sino-Japanese relations since the attempted purchase in 2012 of the islands by the former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have backed Japan’s territorial claims to the Senkakus.
In response to increased presence of Chinese patrols around disputed areas, Japan has shifted its Self-Defense Forces to new patrols and other diplomatic measures, according to Center of Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington D.C.
The exhibition was created by the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination on Territory and Sovereignty, which was created in 2012 “in order to promote a correct understanding, at home and abroad, of relevant facts and Japan’s position concerning Japan’s territorial integrity,” according to the organization’s website. “We have every intention to keep it open to the public for an indefinite period of time,” said a government official assigned to the project.
The exhibition is housed in a historical building built in 1929, which is currently occupied by a library and a research group that focuses on municipal research.
“I get the feeling that with all of this evidence Japan has a strong basis for their claims. But it is a difficult problem to solve as in South Korea they also have their own claims,” said a 21-year-old university student.