Korea to press Japan's forced labor issue with Unesco

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Korea to press Japan's forced labor issue with Unesco

An exhibition on Hashima Island at Japan’s Industrial Heritage Information Centre in Tokyo introducing 23 facilities from the Meiji Industrial Revolution designated as Unesco World Heritage sites which opened Monday. Seoul protested that the center failed to acknowledge the brutal conditions faced by forced labor victims during World War II. [JOONGANG ILBO]

An exhibition on Hashima Island at Japan’s Industrial Heritage Information Centre in Tokyo introducing 23 facilities from the Meiji Industrial Revolution designated as Unesco World Heritage sites which opened Monday. Seoul protested that the center failed to acknowledge the brutal conditions faced by forced labor victims during World War II. [JOONGANG ILBO]

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that it will raise with Unesco the failure of Japan to fulfill its pledge to commemorate the victims of wartime forced labor in a new information center for a group of World Heritage sites.  
 
Japan has drawn criticism after falling through on its promise to acknowledge the brutal conditions that forced labor victims from Korea and other Asian countries faced at some of these sites during World War II. The issue was supposed to be highlighted in its newly opened information center in Tokyo, which introduces the 23 facilities from the Meiji industrial revolution designated as Unesco World Heritage sites in 2015. 
 
"The Korean government will engage in full diplomatic efforts and cooperate closely with the international community for the Japanese side’s thorough implementation of the recommendation by the World Heritage Committee so that the full history of each site can be understood," Lee Jae-woong, deputy spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, told reporters in a briefing in Seoul Tuesday. "We also plan to make diplomatic efforts so that Unesco also understands this situation."
 
The Korean Foreign Ministry said it plans to send a letter to the Paris-based Unesco, or the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, to encourage Tokyo to follow through on the World Heritage Committee recommendations. It also plans to reach out to other Unesco member states over the issue.  
 
A Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that diplomatic efforts could include "raising the issue at related meetings or sending a letter" to Unesco on the matter.  
 
A meeting of the World Heritage Committee initially scheduled for June 29 to July 9 is expected to convene in November after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.  
 
Seoul had initially opposed the designation of the Japanese industrial sites because Koreans had been forced to work at seven of those facilities, including Hashima Island, or Battleship Island, located off the coast of the city of Nagasaki, during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.  
 
But Japan pledged to uphold the recommendation of the World Heritage Committee during a meeting in Bonn, Germany, in July 2015 to come up with a strategy that allowed for the understanding of the "full history" of each site. The Japanese top envoy to Unesco at the time publicly recognized that Korean and other victims had been "brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions" at some of the sites in the 1940s.
 
The government-funded Industrial Heritage Information Centre in Tokyo in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, opened to the public on Monday. It was expected to have been a venue for Japan to follow through on the World Heritage Committee recommendations to acknowledge the historical background of some of the sites.  
 
Instead, the exhibitions have been seen as trying to distort the country's history and gloss over the harsh conditions faced by the forced laborers, presenting evidence and testimony purporting that workers lived under reasonable conditions. Korean Second Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho on Monday summoned Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita Monday to lodge a protest over Japan’s failure to fulfill its pledge.  
 
Seoul and Tokyo have an ongoing spat over trade and history issues.  
 
Japan imposed export restrictions on Korea last summer, seen largely as retaliation against Korean Supreme Court rulings in late 2018 ordering two Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II.  
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
 

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