Japan’s Unesco bid still up in the air

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Japan’s Unesco bid still up in the air

A day before a decision whether to put 23 Japanese industrial sites on Unesco’s world heritage list, negotiations between Korean and Japanese diplomats on the issue hit a stumbling block.

The last-minute negotiations by the two sides came just a day before a scheduled session Saturday by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Bonn, Germany, that is supposed to decide whether to recognize Meiji-era industrial sites that were constructed and operated in part by forced labor from Korea as world heritage sites.

An official at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Seoul told the Korea JoongAng Daily that the two sides were still discussing the meeting in Germany as of Friday, but he didn’t describe the stumbling block in detail.

Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, said during a meeting organized by the parliamentary house steering committee on Friday that while the two had made some strides in reaching agreement, Seoul and Tokyo still needed to fine-tune the terms of an agreement.

The two neighbors have been discussing conditions under which Korea would consent to Japan having those 23 areas designated as heritage sites. Korean officials have demanded that Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula for 36 years from 1910 to 1945, clearly present facts about its forced mobilization of Korean workers during the colonial period.

Seoul has demanded that Japan exclude seven of the 23 sites unless it clearly disseminates the facts about its forced mobilization of nearly 57,900 Koreans at those sites during its 36-year occupation.

The prospect of reaching an agreement seemed likely when Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in Tokyo on June 21 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Following the meeting, Korea’s top diplomat said the two reached an agreement from a “broad perspective” on the issue.

That raised hope that the Unesco issue might improve overall relations between the two sides.

During the hearing at the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yun said he hoped for an outcome that “reflected concerns” held by Korea in regard to Japan’s attitude toward slave labor.

If the two fail to reach consensus, a vote could be called to decide the fate of Japan’s proposal. But the WHC wants to avoid a vote because it prefers consensus-based decisions on world heritage sites.

Aside from Japan’s bid, Seoul is also seeking to put historic sites from the ancient Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C. to 660 A.D.) on the world heritage list during the WHC session, slated to run until next Wednesday.

Nearly 40 candidate sites were submitted for consideration this year.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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