[Editorial] Japan’s shameless move
Tokyo must reconsider World Heritage bid for Sado mine linked to wartime forced labor
Published : Feb 4, 2022 - 05:30
Updated : Feb 4, 2022 - 05:30
It is regrettable that the Japanese government took a step Tuesday to list a gold mine linked to wartime forced labor as a UNESCO World Heritage site, as the apparently politically motivated attempt is feared to worsen the already trouble-laden relations with South Korea.

The Japanese government submitted a letter of recommendation for the gold and silver mines on Sado Island, as the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gave a green light to the 2023 UNESCO heritage bid -- despite strong opposition from South Korea.

Seoul immediately expressed “strong regret” over Tokyo’s decision that has drawn widespread condemnation from Korean media outlets and the public, with many calling it a “shameful act.”

Historical documents show over 1,000 Koreans were forced into hard labor at the mine on Sado Island in Niigata prefecture during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of Korea.

The Japanese government denies this historical fact regarding Sado Island, as it does for other cruelties it committed in the past, even though a historical book published in Niigata prefecture mentions the forced labor of Koreans.

Japan’s move to list the site as a heritage of the Edo period (1603-1867) is nothing if not a thinly veiled to attempt to whitewash the brutality that took place during its rule of Korea.

For Koreans, the Sado mine is one of many sites illustrating the atrocities of the Japanese colonialism amid the long-running view that Japan has yet to issue a sincere apology and offer proper compensation.

Japan’s UNESCO bid appears to be politically motivated. Earlier, Japan considered delaying the nomination of the Sado mine as a UNESCO heritage site due to the strong protest from South Korea. But Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have pushed to seek the heritage designation.

The Japanese government’s about-face is designed to take the heritage listing as a factor that could influence conservative voters in the elections slated for Japan. This political calculation, which is bound to stir up the diplomatic row again, is even inviting criticism from some Japanese media.

It adds to already frosty Seoul-Tokyo relations that have been weighed down by its wartime history, trade disputes, Japan’s plan to discharge radioactive water into the ocean and its continued claim to Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Japan’s latest move also reminds observers that it did not keep its earlier promise for a similar heritage designation case. In 2015, Japan added a coal mine in Nagasaki prefecture to the World Cultural Heritage list. At the time, it said it would let the world know that many Koreans were trapped in forced labor at the mine. Japan, however, broke its own promise and even removed the expression of “forced labor” in its 2017 report submitted to UNESCO.

This is why the World Heritage Committee unanimously adopted a resolution in July last year, calling on Japan to keep its promise.

The way Japan deals with its dark past is often a mix of denials and disgraceful distortion of historical facts, even though provocative behaviors such as the listing attempt for the Sado mine could worsen relations with its neighboring country and undermine its international reputation further.

It is also puzzling that, according to a Japanese media outlet, Tokyo would take into consideration the recent “achievement” that it had pulled off the heritage listing in 2015, despite the strong protest from Seoul.

But Japan’s attempt could fall apart if South Korea continues to protest the heritage listing, as UNESCO adopted a new system last year, which delays the deliberation schedule indefinitely when a dispute arises.

The Korean government, which launched a task force team last month, must take all possible diplomatic measures to stop Japan from repeating its shameful acts.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)