Another trigger of concernsJapan chose Sado Mine, a site of forced labor for Koreans during the Japanese colonial period, as a candidate to be recognized as Unesco World Heritage. Tokyo will file for a review on Feb. 1 to win the Unesco designation in 2023. If the country neglects to mention the deplorable forced labor at the sight, it will inevitably receive strong backlash from Koreans just like it did six years ago over its previous World Heritage recognition of Hashima Island, where Koreans were forced into labor for Japanese enterprises. The new developments will only worsen the chilled bilateral relationship.
Japan argues that the mine legacy will be restricted to the Edo period (1603-1867) before colonization and therefore would be irrelevant to the forced labor controversy. Tokyo claims that the mine which was the biggest gold mine in the world in 17th century has value as cultural heritage due to its traditional mining ways. The judgement lies with Unesco. But Korea must not wait. The mine site which could be recognized for world and tourist value was the site of brutal abuse of 1,000 Koreans.
Japan has pressed for the World Heritage recognition for the deserted island of Hashima, also known as the Battleship Island, off the coast of Nagasaki for its contribution to Japan’s modernization. For a Unesco review, Tokyo promised to mention that the site had also been a labor field for forcibly conscripted Koreans during the 1910-1945 colonial period and devote an exhibition to explain the shameful historic fact. But it has never met the promise. In the information center it opened last year, it stated that Japan had never discriminated against Koreans. In July, the Unesco World Heritage Committee gave Japan a deadline to address the “insufficient” information on the history of forced labor, but Tokyo is yet to comply.
Seoul has demanded Tokyo withdraw its latest candidate. Various mines, military facilities, roads and railways across Japan bear the bruises of Koreans forced into harsh and impoverished labor. To deny and distort the facts will pain Koreans once again. The Japanese government has moral and humanitarian duties apart from the legal and diplomatic skirmish over Korea’s top court’s ruling demanding Japanese companies financially compensate individual survivors of forced labor.
If Tokyo had kept its promise with Hashima, there could have been room for compromise with Seoul. It must first act out its commitment with Hashima and seek a diplomatic solution with Korean diplomats.