BONN, GERMANY – The UNESCO World Heritage Committee said Sunday it will add the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” to the World Cultural Heritage list, as well as eight historical sites in South Korea, including the Gongsan-Seong Fortress of the Baekje Dynasty, approved the day before.
Under the decision at a meeting in Bonn, Germany, the 23 facilities in eight Japanese prefectures will be listed as proposed by Japan, without any changes. They represent Japan’s industrialization over just 50 years in the late 19th to early 20th centuries by rapidly adopting Western technologies.
South Korea earlier opposed adding the Japanese sites to the World Heritage list because Koreans had been forced to work at seven sites when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
However, at a meeting June 21 of their foreign ministers, Japan and South Korea reached a basic agreement to cooperate on heritage listings of each other’s sites.
Still, the decision was postponed from Saturday as initially scheduled to give Japan and South Korea time to coordinate their positions at the last minute.
At Sunday’s meeting, Japanese representative Kuni Sato acknowledged a large number of Korean and other people “were brought against their will and were forced to work under severe conditions” at some of the Japanese industrial sites as the Japanese government implemented a policy of forced recruitment during the war.
Sato also said Japan is prepared to take steps to remember the victims, including setting up an information center.
In his address to the committee, South Korea’s second vice foreign minister, Cho Tae-yul, called the decision an important step to keep the victims’ sufferings in people’s minds, adding that his country backed the listing with the expectation that Tokyo will carry out what it has promised to do.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the decision in a statement, saying: “I’m glad from the heart. We will renew our resolve to preserve these wonderful heritage sites that tell the accomplishments of our ancestors and inherit them for the next generation.”
Despite acknowledging the forced labor, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo there has been no change to Tokyo’s position that the issue of wartime reparations has been “fully and finally resolved” between the two countries.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a press conference that he is glad the decision was made in a way to reflect his country’s “legitimate concern.”
The Japanese sites approved Sunday include the Hashima Coal Mine in Nagasaki, known as “Battleship Island,” and some facilities that are still at least partly in operation, such as the Nagasaki shipyard.
Next year the committee will consider whether to add churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures. In the past two years, both Mount Fuji and the Tomioka Silk Mill were added to the list of World Heritage sites.
The council also asked Japan to report on measures to preserve Battleship Island and other deteriorating facilities by Dec. 1, 2017.
The additions will raise the number of World Heritage sites in Japan, including group listings, to 19 — four natural and 15 cultural sites.
The famed Alamo mission in San Antonia, Texas, was also added to the cultural site list.