SEOUL – Japan and South Korea remained apart over the proposed World Heritage listing of historical industrial sites after holding a second round of talks Tuesday in Seoul, according to meeting participants.
As with the first round of talks, held May 22 in Tokyo, the Japanese side explained the historical value of the sites, while the South Korean side reiterated its opposition and again sought Japan’s acknowledgement of the history of conscripted Koreans forced to work at some of the sites.
In the talks at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Japan was represented by Jun Shimmi, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for cultural affairs, and South Korea by Choi Jong-moon, ambassador for cultural and UNESCO affairs.
The Japanese delegation expressed hope that South Korea would respect the recommendation made in early May by a UNESCO advisory panel to list the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” as a World Heritage site, endorsing all 23 facilities proposed by the Japanese government as representative of Japan’s industrialization in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
South Korea contends that about 60,000 Koreans were conscripted to work at some of the proposed sites during World War II. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945.
Japan argues that the period covered by the proposed listing is from the 1850s to 1910, well before the time of conscripted labor. Japan has also asked South Korea not to politicize the case.
South Korea has indicated it is willing to accept the sites’ listing if Japan adds an explanation that touches on the compulsory recruitment of Korean workers, but Japan has responded negatively to the request.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which has 21 member states, including South Korea, will decide whether to list the sites during deliberations slated for early July in Bonn, Germany. If the committee can’t come to a consensus on the matter, it will be put to a two-thirds majority vote.
A Japanese official said a vote by the committee is not the most desirable method and Japan is prepared to hold another round of talks with South Korea before the committee deliberations.