Ministry urges dialogue as Japan reneges on pledge to honour forced labour victims
SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - South Korea’s Foreign Ministry urged for dialogue with Japan on Tuesday after the latter reneged on its pledge to acknowledge Korean victims of forced labour at its Unesco World Heritage sites.
On Monday, the UN cultural agency’s World Heritage Center posted on its website Japan’s second report on the implementation of follow-up measures regarding the inscription of the sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.
In the report, Japan failed to state progress on the measures it will take to acknowledge and commemorate forced labor victims.
Seven of the 23 Japanese modern industrial locations designated by UNESCO as world heritage sites in July 2015 were involved in Japan’s mobilization of forced labor from Korea -- then under Japan’s colonial rule -- and other Asian countries before and during World War II.
Some 57,000 Korean workers were sent to the seven sites, including Hashima Island, known as Gunhamdo in Korean, and other mines.
At the time of the designation, the World Heritage Committee recommended that the Japanese government prepare a strategy for the presentation of the property that would allow an understanding of the full history of each site.
In response, a Japanese representative stated that the country’s government was prepared to take appropriate measures to remember the victims of forced labor. However, no action has been taken yet.
“The Government of the Republic of Korea urges Japan to faithfully implement the follow-up measures to remember the victims that Japan promised to the international community, and it furthermore urges the Japanese Government to engage in dialogue on this matter,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kim In-chul said in a statement.
Japan’s first progress report submitted to UNESCO in 2017 also did not include the implementation of the promised follow-up measures.
The Japanese government stated that Korean workers “supported” Japan’s industry instead of using the word “forced.” It added that it would establish an information center exhibiting the industrial heritage of forced labor in Tokyo -- not at the sites directly related to the issue.
Meanwhile, Seoul has expressed its disappointment over Tokyo’s apparent reluctance to resolve the issue, though the World Heritage Center has encouraged the two countries to hold dialogue.
“In spite of continued requests from the Korean Government, a major concerned party, for initiating a dialogue, the Japanese Government has shown no willingness to engage in dialogue and instead has chosen to prepare and publish the current progress report without any consultation with the Korean Government,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement said.
Relations between Korea and Japan have been strained this year over the forced labor issue. In October 2018, Seoul’s top court ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced labor victims, triggering a dispute between the two countries.
Japan imposed trade restrictions on exports of three key industrial materials to Korea and removed the country from its whitelist of trusted trading partners. These moves were seen as retaliation against the court rulings.
In a tit-for-tat response, Seoul decided to end its military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, though it has delayed the end of the pact for now, with conditions attached.
Korea hopes that Japan will withdraw its export restrictions within months, as authorities have resumed talks on the matter.