SEOUL – South Korea is set to demand UNESCO remove historical sites related to Japan’s industrial revolution from its World Heritage list, South Korean media reported late Sunday.
The South Korean government has criticized a Tokyo exhibit introducing the Japanese sites, saying that it fails to show that Koreans were coerced to work at some of them during World War II despite a pledge by the Japanese government to make that fact clear.
The Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry will send a letter to the U.N. agency by the end of this month to lodge the demand, Yonhap News Agency said, citing Jeon Yong Gi, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
South Korea contends that the Tokyo exhibit includes contents about the island of Hashima, in Nagasaki Prefecture, that “directly contradict” Japan’s commitment to demonstrate that there were “a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions.”
The Foreign Ministry in Seoul also said in a June 15 statement that the exhibition’s contents “completely distort historical facts.”
After an opening ceremony in late March, the information center on the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” was finally opened to the public last week after a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the exhibit on the sites includes descriptions of Korean labor, it incorporates testimonies from second-generation Koreans who live in Japan claiming that there was no discriminatory treatment of Korean workers.
In the June statement, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it was “deeply concerning and disappointing” to see that no effort had been made to pay tribute to those who were forced to work, despite Tokyo’s promise to establish the information center as a way to remember them.
Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo has received no notification from South Korea but that it would continue to deal with the matter “appropriately.”
“We have been carrying out steps, including what we promised, while taking the resolution and recommendations by the World Heritage Committee seriously,” Suga said at a news conference Monday.
The World Heritage Committee had called for dialogue with South Korea during its review process to address the claim over the wartime labor issue.
The Hashima Coal Mine, known as “Battleship Island” because of its shape, is one of the 23 sites spanning eight prefectures that were added to the World Cultural Heritage list in 2015 under “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.”
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