National / History

Envoys bound for UNESCO events to counter opposition toward World Heritage listings

Kyodo

Japan is planning to send special envoys to 15 countries involved in the designation of the UNESCO World Heritage sites to push for the controversial listing of some of its industrial sites, government sources said Thursday.

Joining moves by South Korea to oppose the envisioned listing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing the same day that Beijing is also against the registration of the facilities, which include places where people from China and the Korean Peninsula were forced to provide wartime labor.

“China shares South Korea’s strong concerns over Japan’s application,” she said, becoming the first official to explicitly express China’s opposition.

The issue has drawn controversy after an advisory panel of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recommended listing as a World Heritage site 23 facilities in Japan’s eight prefectures that represent the country’s industrialization and modernization in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

To counter opposition and highlight the significance of the sites, the government plans to send by the end of the month eight special envoys of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to 15 of the 21 countries that form the committee with the final say on the World Heritage listing, the sources said.

Japan and South Korea are both members of the World Heritage Committee, which will meet in July for the screening of the listing of the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.”

Minoru Kiuchi, Japan’s senior vice foreign minister, is scheduled to travel to Germany, the chair of the committee, and Poland during a trip through Sunday. Yasuhide Nakayama, another senior vice foreign minister, will head to Jamaica on Sunday.

Turkey, Qatar, Vietnam and two South American countries are also among the destinations, the sources said.

Japan also plans to ask South Korea to respond calmly to the issue during a meeting to discuss the matter on May 22 in Tokyo.

The South Korean government has expressed opposition to the listing, saying seven of the facilities included in Japan’s proposal involved the use of about 60,000 conscripted Korean laborers and led to the death of some 100 of them.

The Japanese government has said forced labor has nothing to do with the value of the sites as the time period for which the sites are proposed to be registered on the World Heritage list is different from the time the laborers were used.

A Chinese group consisting of victims and relatives of deceased forced laborers during the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War has also said the Japanese sites include coal mines off the city of Nagasaki where hundreds of Chinese people were forced to work.

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