産業革命遺産 祝賀に水差す韓国の政治工作

The Yomiuri Shimbun
S. Korea’s political maneuvering rains on Japan’s UNESCO parade
産業革命遺産 祝賀に水差す韓国の政治工作

It was persistent political maneuvering by the South Korean government to pour cold water on Japan’s festive mood for the World Heritage site registration.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Germany, has officially decided to add Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912) industrial revolution sites to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.

The sites are mainly bases for iron and steel manufacturing, shipbuilding and coal industries in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. They comprise 23 assets in eight prefectures, including the state-run Yawata Steel Works in Fukuoka Prefecture and Hashima Coal Mine — better known as Gunkanjima — in Nagasaki Prefecture. They are heritage sites that Japan can boast of to the world.

It was unfortunate that the South Korean government excessively played up the “negative side” of Japan’s heritage sites.

South Korea initially opposed the registration, claiming that Korean workers were requisitioned at some of the facilities during World War II. But it changed its policy at a foreign ministerial meeting in June and agreed to cooperate with Japan on the bid for World Heritage status.

However, after that, it was revealed that South Korea, at a committee meeting, prepared a draft of remarks stating that Japan had admitted the requisitioned workers were “forced labor.” It included wording that likened the facilities to slave export ports. For that reason, Japan protested the draft and the prior coordination between the two countries hit a snag.

South Korea then seemed to shift the emphasis to an international campaign to spread the idea that requisitioned workers were “forced labor.” It was irrational of South Korea to lobby to strengthen its position over issues relating to historical perceptions at a meeting meant to discuss the protection of cultural assets.

Requisition mischaracterized

The requisition that Japan carried out through entire territories at that time, including the Korean Peninsula, was based on a national order and targeted all the people there. It is a fact that many Korean workers were mobilized to Japan, but it was different from “forced labor” that violates international laws.

In the statement made at the committee meeting, Japan pointed out, “There were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions.” By using expressions other than “forced labor” while making concessions to South Korea, Japan intended to have come to terms with South Korea.

However, turning Japan’s statement to its own advantage, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se said, “The Japanese government announced there was ‘forced work,’” and South Korean newspapers covered it extensively. Japan thus wound up letting South Korea cause trouble and have what it wanted, failing to remove the cause of conflicts between Japan and South Korea.

In the 1965 Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation, Japan and South Korea confirmed that all such claims, including those of former requisitioned workers, were legally settled.  1965年の請求権協定で、元徴用工を含めた請求権問題は法的に解決済みだ。

Seoul has told Tokyo that it will not use Japan’s statement on the workers to deal with issues concerning the claims. Is there any possibility that South Korea could bring up the issues again in relation to the statement?

Due to the latest dustup, “anti-South Korean” sentiment in Japan further increased.

It is safe to say that cold water was also poured onto the momentum toward the improvement of relations between the two countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8, 2015)

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