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Exhibition name row hardly a “diplomatic breakthrough”

Publication Date : 09-07-2014


A naming dispute that jeopardised an exhibition that took a decade to prepare, featuring artifacts on loan from Taiwan's National Palace Museum (NPM), was finally resolved late last month when the Japan issued an apology in Tokyo.

In a press conference held on June 23, Masami Zeniya, executive director of Tokyo National Museum, apologised to the Taiwanese people over the row.

Saying sorry for the mistakes the museum made, in which the NPM's official name was not displayed on some posters and entrance tickets, a move seen by Taiwan as downgrading the nation's sovereignty status, Zeniya stressed that his museum had done its best to correct the mistakes.

Those exhibition materials, including posters, billboards and museum tickets, which were found listing the NPM's name in Japanese as the “Palace Museum, Taipei” instead of the NPM's official name, have all been corrected, he noted.

The apology and the corrections were accepted by the Taiwan government and the NPM, and the nod was finally given to launch the exhibition, entitled “Treasured Masterpieces from the NPM,” as planned.

NPM museum officials dubbed the settlement of the issue a “breakthrough” in Taiwanese diplomacy because the Tokyo National Museum complied with the nation's request to correct the error.

The NPM said in a statement released on June 24 that its demands for Japan to adhere to the agreement the two institutions reached regarding the exhibit showed the Taiwanese people that their government is willing to stand up to other nations.

The “rectification” of the naming blunder is a significant moment in the nation's “cultural and diplomatic history,” the museum said.

As rightfully pointed out by the nation's Presidential Office, national dignity is of top priority. And one should never sacrifice Taiwan's sovereignty status for a cultural event.

However, the naming row, though successfully resolved, is hardly a diplomatic breakthrough or the success claimed by the NPM.

As a matter of fact, it was exactly the lack of political sensitivity on the part of the NPM that almost led to the long-prepared exhibition not going ahead, in what should have been a perfect opportunity to showcase the R.O.C.'s soft power on the international stage.

Local media reported that the NPM discovered weeks before that some Japanese advertising materials for the exhibition omitted the word “national” when referring to the NPM.

However, the NPM lacked the political sensibility to deal with the situation until three days before the exhibition was scheduled to kick off on June 24.

It is true that the Japanese museum must take full responsibility for the incident because it apparently violated the agreement between Taiwan and Japan that the Taipei museum's full name be used in all publicity materials, a move that downgraded the nation's sovereignty status.

However, if the NPM, as well as the Taiwan representative office in Tokyo, had detected the errors and dealt with them sooner, the row could have been resolved more quickly.

If this had happened, the Taiwan government would not have had to issue a last minute threat to cancel the unprecedented exhibition less than three days before it was scheduled to kick off, a decision that elevated a simple museum-to-museum contract dispute to a national level diplomatic incident.

It is also because of the negligence of the NPM that First lady Chow Mei-ching, who was originally scheduled to visit Japan to attend the exhibition, announced plans to postpone her trip because of the naming row, thus missing out on an excellent opportunity to improve diplomatic relations with Japan.

One reason for the NPM's slow response to the incident was that it kept all related affairs regarding the exhibition to itself and did not work closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taiwan's representative office in Tokyo.

The China Post hopes that the NPM can learn from the incident and improve its crisis management abilities so that similar rows do not happen again in the future. As shown, such rows that can transform a well-intentioned cultural demonstration of Taiwan's image into a diplomatic incident.


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