Should UNESCO remove Japanese sites from World Heritage list?

02-Jul-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Amid South Korea and Japan being stuck in the past over unsettled wartime forced labour reparations, netisens remain split over Seoul’s diplomatic endeavors to remove controversial Japanese industrial sites, including the so-called “Battleship Island,” from the UNESCO World Heritage list.

In a survey of social media users run by The Korea Times via Facebook, some said the two countries should not let the past stand in the way of cooperation for a better future, while others claimed righting the wrongs of history was essential for the two nations to move forward.

The government wants UNESCO to remove 23 Meiji Era industrial sites from its World Heritage list, as Japan has failed to live up to its commitment to tell the world that those sites had a dark past, including the use of wartime forced Korean labourers during the 1910-45 colonial occupation of the peninsula by Japan.

Upon the heritage designation in 2015, Japan pledged to the international community that it would establish a centre to commemorate “Koreans and others who were taken there against their will and forced to work under inhumane working conditions.”

Seven of 23 industrial sites employed forced labour from Korea, China and other countries during the World War II. Among them is the notorious Hashima Island, better known as the Battleship Island here, where hundreds of Koreans were forced to work tirelessly in an undersea coal mine.

However, the Industrial Heritage Information centre in Tokyo, which opened to the public June 15, angered Korean government and civic groups with its “distortion of history.”

The newly opened centre includes content about Hashima Island that contradict Japan’s earlier pledge.

Although the exhibit includes references to conscripted workers, it also quotes testimony from a second-generation Korean named Fumio Suzuki who lives in Japan and claims there was no discriminatory treatment of Korean workers.

“That is only an exceptional case. It is like ignoring stories of 999 out of 1,000,” said Yuji Hosaka, a professor at Sejong University, during a special talk hosted by the Korean Culture and Information Service.

“Suzuki claims that there wasn’t any discrimination, but it is likely that his father was working in a managerial position, not as a miner, or his family adopted Japanese names.”

On June 22, Foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha sent a letter to UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay asking for the case to be reviewed as Tokyo had failed to deliver on its promise to acknowledge its dark history and honor wartime forced labourers.

On June 28, Culture minister Park Yang-woo condemned Japan for trying to “distort historical facts.”

“Japan has undermined the existence value of the World Heritage and trust of the international community by failing to keep its promise,” he wrote on Facebook. “History must be based on the truth. The Japanese government must be honest and respect history.”

Internet users, whose comments were collected by The Korea Times to learn more on their opinions about the touchy diplomatic issue, were divided over Seoul’s diplomatic effort to hold Japan accountable for listing the controversial sites on the world heritage list.

One wrote: “Harping on the past only reinforces hostility and instills hatred in the younger generation.”

“The whole world knows about the evil horror Japan inflicted against humanity during the first half of the 20th century,” another wrote. “The continued whitewashing of history is one of the reasons why Japan will fail in the 21st century.”

Another user commented, “Imperialist Japan was most inhumane in its treatment of Korea and it should own up it. Those victims shouldn’t be forgotten in history. There’s no point trying to pretend this stuff didn’t happen because it happened. If Japan refuses to honor these victims then it is only fair that the site should not be regarded as a world heritage site.”

On the other hand, some asserted that it was more important for both countries to form alliances than to be in constant petty conflicts.

“What is there to gain if you Korea continues to hold onto this horrible past? As a citizen of this world, I would rather go for strategic alliances that would boost economic lives, social justice and equality. There is so much more to do than sticking with and lingering on a painful past,” one Facebook user said.

“Let them keep it as a world heritage site, but humanity must force them to tell the whole horrible story,” another noted.


Category: Japan

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