Japan is holding back more than $40 million in UNESCO funding, foreign minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday, following a protest against listing documents related to the Nanjing massacre.
Kishida confirmed Japan has suspended this year’s contribution totalling 4.4 billion yen ($42 million), but denied any direct link to an incident that still hangs over frosty diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Beijing.
Last year, Japan – one of UNESCO’s biggest funders – warned it may pull funding for the UN cultural and scientific body after it agreed to Bejing’s request to mark documents recording the mass murder and rape committed by Japanese troops after the fall of the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937.
The documents were inscribed in the UN body’s Memory of the World register.
The massacre, often referred to as the “Rape of Nanjing”, is an exceptionally sensitive issue in the often tense relations between Japan and China, with Beijing charging that Tokyo has failed to atone for the atrocity.
Tokyo had called for the Nanjing documents not to be included and accused the body of being politicised.
The Japanese military invaded China in the 1930s and the two countries fought a full-scale war from 1937 until Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945.
China says 300,000 people died in a six-week spree of killing, rape and destruction after the Japanese military entered Nanjing.
Some respected foreign academics put the number lower but there is very little mainstream scholarship doubting that a massacre took place.
Japan’s official position is that “the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred”, though it adds “it is difficult to determine” the correct number of victims.
However, some conservatives and nationalists deny that atrocities were committed, a source of regular regional friction.
China has rejected Japan’s protest over the UNESCO move.
Some civic groups are moving to have thousands of documents linked to Japan’s controversial wartime brothels entered into the UN registry.
Tokyo frequently clashes with its Asian neighbours over its war record, with many accusing the country of failing to atone for atrocities or recognise the suffering that took place under the yoke of Japanese militarism.
The Memory of the World register, set up in 1992, is aimed at preserving humanity’s documentary heritage, and currently holds 348 documents and archives that come from countries all over the world.