• Kyodo, staff report


Japan plans to rebut UNESCO's recommendations that the country should provide a better explanation about Korean victims of wartime labor at its Tokyo information center on industrial sites listed as World Cultural Heritage sites, government sources said Saturday.

At UNESCO's World Heritage Committee session held from Friday to July 31, Japan plans to explain that its exhibition at the Industrial Heritage Information Center on people from Korea who worked in the Hashima Coal Mine off Nagasaki — one of the 23 registered sites — is based on historical facts and appropriate, the sources said.

As Japan is not a member of this term's 21-nation committee, it cannot be involved in discussions or adoptions of documents. But Kenko Sone, the Foreign Ministry's director general for cultural affairs, plans to attend the online session as an observer and expects to be requested to speak on the matter, the sources said.

A feud over wartime labor and compensation has caused Japan-South Korea relations to sink to their lowest point in decades, even as the two Asian neighbors need to cooperate in addressing issues such as North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

South Korea has criticized the exhibits at the information center for falling short in explaining about the Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

Although the exhibit on the site include descriptions of Korean labor, it incorporates testimonies from second-generation Korean Japanese residents claiming there was no discriminatory treatment of Korean workers there.

A South Korean civic group said Friday it strongly supports the recommendations, claiming exhibits at the facility lack explanations about the victims.

The recommendations by UNESCO, released Monday, following its inspection of the center that opened last year, may be adopted around next Thursday during the session.

When the "Site of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution" was added to the World Cultural Heritage list in 2015, Japan promised to take measures that allow an understanding there were a large number of Koreans and others who were "brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions" in the 1940s at some of the sites, and that, during World War II, the government also implemented its policy of requisition.

At the committee's session, Japan plans to say that it is "sincerely" making good on that promise, the sources said.

UNESCO said in its report assessing the center that "measures to allow an understanding of those brought against their will and forced to work are currently insufficient."

The body recognized that the center contains a variety of research material relating to the lives of workers, including oral testimonies, but said "there is no display that could be characterized as adequately serving the purpose of remembering the victims."

South Korea had initially opposed adding the Hashima Coal Mine, also known as "Battleship Island," and other locations to the World Cultural Heritage list under "Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution," saying Koreans were forced to work at some of the sites.

But it dropped its opposition on condition that Japan publicly acknowledge that Koreans were coerced to work at such sites.

However, Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds over the definition of forced labor.

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