Ahead of the February 1, 2022, deadline, the Japanese government has decided to proceed with submitting its recommendation for Niigata Prefecture’s Sado gold and silver mines to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At one point, it had appeared that some within the government were considering deferring the recommendation.
It goes without saying that the recommendation must be submitted to UNESCO. A deferral would mean giving in to South Korean criticism and its misstatements that people from the Korean Peninsula were subjected to forced labor in the mines.
The Japanese government must argue back firmly using facts, and seek understanding from the international community, as it drives toward gaining the UNESCO listing.
“We have decided to apply [for the UNESCO listing] this year, after concluding that starting the discussion now would be the quickest way to gain a listing,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on January 28, explaining the decision to not defer the recommendation.
Kishida had to explain the recommendation in his own words, after politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties demanded that there be no deferral.
“This is an issue that relates to Japan’s honor,” said Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Sanae Takaichi, voicing her opposition to the idea of deferring.
Meanwhile, Junya Ogawa, policy chief of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said, “It is desirable to recommend this historical cultural asset.”
South Korea claims that people from the Korean Peninsula were victims of forced labor at the Sado mines. However, the people in question, who worked at the site between 1940 and 1942, were paid a salary. Moreover, the period referred to in the recommendation is the Tokugawa era, and not the World War II period raised by South Korea.
If the recommendation had been deferred, it would have lent credibility to South Korea’s unjustified claims.
No doubt, South Korea will keep trying to block listings in the future. When Japanese sites linked to the Meiji Industrial Revolution were listed by UNESCO in 2015, South Korea started a propaganda war, claiming that people from the Korean Peninsula had undergone forced labor there, specifically at Gunkanjima, site of the Hashima coal mines.
South Korea even distorted obvious facts, stating that photos of Japanese people were those of people from the Korean Peninsula. Nevertheless, even though the distortions were revealed, Japan ended up compromising and agreed to take “appropriate measures to commemorate the victims” in exchange for the UNESCO listing.
Japan’s hesitant approach on the Sado gold mine recommendation is a concern, as this would interfere with the sufficiency of the relevant preparations. If Japan fails to gain the understanding of other countries and has the listing rejected, it will not be possible to resubmit the recommendation.
Japan’s Council for Cultural Affairs selected the Sado Island mines in December 2021 as a candidate for a 2023 listing. The site is a valuable industrial asset where traditional crafts, such as mining and smelting, took place in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).
The government should proudly go ahead with the recommendation, and do all it can to ensure a listing by UNESCO.
- Fake Images, False Claims: Gunkanjima Natives Fact-Check South Korea on Forced Labor
- Asahi Shimbun, UNESCO Want to Rewrite Wartime Labor History with Unfounded Assumptions
- Information Center in Tokyo Remains at Heart of Dispute over ‘Hell Island’
(Read the story in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun