Japanese exhibition on disputed islands raises China, South Korea hackles

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/5 20:38:40

China and South Korea lodged a protest with Japan's foreign ministry in late January, demanding the closure of an exhibition in Tokyo displaying items related to the Diaoyu Islands and Dokdo islets that have been a source of tension between Japan and China, South Korea. The exhibits have been displayed to show that the islands are an inherent part of Japan. Tetsuma Esaki, Japanese minister in charge of territorial disputes, attended the opening of the exhibition.

Exhibitions or museums often display items including collections, documents, materials, photos, relics and professional books to introduce history, pass on memories and enlighten the present generation. The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum are examples. However, the exhibition hall set up by the Japanese government intends to confuse between the right and wrong and mislead the public. After all, China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands historically and legally. The opening of the exhibition cannot change the fact.

In Japan, it's common to emphasize "sovereignty" over disputed territories by setting up an exhibition hall. As early as 1979, a museum was built up in Hokkaido to assert Japan's sovereignty over the disputed Northern Territories, known as the Kuril Islands in Russia.

But unlike the Northern Territories museum, the exhibition hall has been set up by the Japanese government in the political center of Japan this time. It's adjacent to the prime minister's residence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies of the US and Saudi Arabia. The site has been chosen not only to draw domestic tourists, but also to be the center of attention for foreign ambassadors and visiting heads of state.    

The choice of the site reflects the Shinzo Abe government's designs. However, chances that the exhibition hall will interest the Japanese public are slim. Surveys by the Cabinet Office last October showed that 62.2 percent of respondents showed interest in the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkakus in Japan, down 12.3 points from the poll in 2014, and 59.3 percent were interested in Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japan, a fall of 7.6 points. Territorial and sovereignty issues may help stir Japanese nationalism, but they cannot necessarily achieve what the Japanese government wants them to do. 

In recent years, Japan has shown fatigue in dealing with China's firm stance in safeguarding the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands. Since 2012, Chinese maritime police have patrolled the Diaoyu Islands routinely. Every month, several Chinese maritime surveillance vessels are sent to conduct patrols in the territorial waters around the islands. Although the Japan Coast Guard would immediately dispatch vessels to track and monitor the Chinese ships, there has been a strength reversal as Chinese maritime surveillance ships have exceeded the Japanese ones in total tonnage, staffing and vessel age. Therefore, the Japanese government hyped up the "China threat." As Japan becomes incapable of dealing with China, establishing the exhibition hall is a new strategy of the Abe government to demonstrate its "rationality and restraint" over territorial issues both at home and abroad.  

Anti-South Korea sentiments were aroused in Japan when South Korean non-government organizations erected a bronze statue of "comfort women" in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Similarly, the exhibition hall would whip up anti-Japan sentiments in China and South Korea. It will also fuel the arrogance of Japan's right-wing conservative forces. The move by the Japanese government has undoubtedly undermined the development and stability of the trilateral relationship.

It's expected that Japan should face history squarely, stop making an issue of the territorial disputes and avoid sabotaging the momentum for a rapprochement in the trilateral relationship.

The author is a PhD candidate at the graduate school of sociology, Toyo University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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