[ON 세계] Cultural Heritage Dispute Fuels Seoul-Tokyo History War

Rosyn Park 기자


2022-03-01 09:00

프린트 91

  • [TBS eFM 101.3 "This Morning" 출연]

    A 400-year-old mine in Japan, which was once one of the world's largest sources of gold, is being fronted as the country's next potential UNESCO World Heritage site.

    But the dark tunnels in this ancient mine hold secrets of abuses and war crimes against Koreans who were forced to work there during World War II.

    This portion of the mine's long history is something South Korea wants to bring to the light and Japan wants the international community to forget.


    Henry Shinn: It's been over a century since the Korean Peninsula sought independence from Japan's harsh colonial rule. But the memories of more than 30 years of occupation are still fresh enough in the minds of many in South Korea that they continue to fuel bilateral tensions with Japan. Now a dispute over a 400-year-old mine is sparking fresh animosity between the neighboring countries.

    With more on this, we have Rosyn Park from the TBS news team. Good to have you with us.

    Rosyn Park: Hello, Henry.

    HS: South Korea's fraught relationship with Japan has been stuck at a low not seen since the normalization of their ties in 1965, and this is due to lingering anger over Japan's wartime atrocities -– most notably its use of hundreds of thousands of Koreans as forced laborers, including women for sexual slavery.

    We've seen this spill over into the social, political and economic realms between the two countries without closure. And apparently now their long running historical disputes are fueling conflicts over cultural heritage. South Korea is protesting Japan's latest bid to get UNESCO World Heritage designation for the Sado Gold Mines. What's at stake?

    RP: From the South Korean government's viewpoint, as well the experts and scholars my colleagues and I spoke to, the main issue here is the whitewashing of the past, or more specifically, in this case, the omission of facts.

    What's important to know is that Japan put the ancient gold and silver mines on the island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture on UNESCO's tentative list back in 2010. Just as it opposed the move then, the South Korean government of today has voiced its concern and objection to Japan's Sado Mine bid, citing the use of forced Korean labor at the site during Japan's colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945.

    When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced last month the decision to push forward the UNESCO World Heritage listing, it was a surprise to Seoul, neighboring Asian nations and even observers outside the region.

    The controversy surrounds Japan's decision to sidestep facts in favor of presenting what experts and international media view as a nationalist historical perspective. We know that the revised Sado Mine submission focuses on just a portion of its history, specifically during Japan's early Edo Era from 1603-1867. This totally, and conveniently, cuts out the period when more than 1,000 Koreans were subjected to slave labor there after it was sold to Mitsubishi by the Meiji government.

    We talked to Historian Alexis Dudden, who's written extensively on Korea-Japan relations, about this issue and she said with good documented evidence of Korean forced labor, the attempt to erase it is questionable.

    [Clip: Alexis Dudden]
    "There are so many beautiful, interesting heritage sites in Japan. The city of Kyoto, for example, which does belong to the world. Why is Japan doing this at this moment is a question that I think has a lot to do with Japan, that is to say, inside Japan dynamics. This is a fight over how to tell Japanese history. And so, in listing this Mitsubishi owned mine, I think it's something that the government would like to explain as 'Beautiful Japan,' yet as a world heritage site it's really strange."

    RP: This also raises the argument about whether or not a nomination that fails to entail its full historical significance lives up to UNESCO's criteria of "universal value and meaning." In this case, the historical viewpoints of Korea as the colonized and Japan as the colonizer. They have shared history but very differing memories and experiences.

    Dudden and other scholars say the current manifestation of Japan's bid, without mention of forced labor, is what is really drawing scrutiny.

    [Clip: Dudden]
    "It is in Japan's interest to simply uphold the acknowledgment that the Japanese government made. For example, the Kono statement in 1992, which acknowledges Japanese state involvement for the forcible enslavement of women and girls. It was a step in the right direction. The fact that in the last 10 years, the Japanese administrations in power have worked to erase that acknowledgment is a problem for Japanese people to interrogate about their own society…The Japanese government in this instance, in this application, is seeing what it can get away with. It knows that it's upsetting the Koreans. It's seeing whether or not the United States will respond or UNESCO will respond."

    HS: This is not the first time Japan and UNESCO have faced scrutiny. In 2015, the World Heritage Committee approved the designation of several Meiji Industrial Revolution sites such as the famous Hashima Battleship Island, that were scenes of war crimes in World War II, despite strong opposition from South Korea.

    RP: Right. The only reason why the bid went through after tough lobbying from both sides is because Seoul compromised and requested that the history of the sites linked to wartime forced labor and other abuses be clearly stated in UNESCO documents and represented at the sites for visitors to see and learn from.
    Six years on, Japan has yet to fulfill its promise to provide a full history of the sites and still refuses to admit that colonial era Korean workers were forced or mistreated.

    So, understandably, there's this terrible precedent and deep distrust in Japan's Sado bid and South Korea's Foreign Ministry has pointed this out.

    HS: What's interesting is the South Korea government has indicated it's not point blank against Japan's UNESCO bid, and hasn't closed the door for discussion on the matter. Why not?

    RP: World Heritage sites are not often viewed as major geopolitical battlegrounds. But in East Asia, where there are significantly less designations compared to Europe and the U.S. they are great sources of national pride and major hauls to boost local economies.

    Generally, a heritage inscription for any country is something to commend but if the process and the history presented is flawed, then it should be corrected. And I think this is where South Korea stands. You can't rewrite history but you can make it better for the future.

    Mindy Kotler, director of the Asia Policy Point think tank, has written that in the case of Japan, influenced by the right-wing ruling Liberal Democratic Party, there has been this push to retell Japan's story in an uncritical, more glorious manner, which dovetails with the ahistorical take on Japan's disastrous war.

    HS: Not all world heritage sites represent glorious legacies. There's the Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp in Poland for example.

    RP: Most all the experts we spoke to touched on the example of Germany. There seems to be this fear Japan has that if it tells all about the history of the Sado Mines or Hashima Island or the other industrial sites linked to wartime wrongdoings, its reputation will be damaged. Auschwitz Birkenau, with its barbed wire fencing, gas chambers, and all, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979 because of its universal significance. According to UNESCO, it shows clearly how the Holocaust, as well as the Nazi German policy of mass murder and forced labor took place.

    The United Nations General Assembly in 2005 designated January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, honoring the millions of victims of the Holocaust and Nazism and to prevent future genocide. This year, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke about the importance of never forgetting her country's past.

    [Clip: Annalena Baerbock]
    "We have to make sure that we never forget. We owe this to six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and all others targeted by the Nazis. We have a moral obligation to remember them and their lives."

    There are many other examples of countries attempting to make true peace with their past, including the Liverpool-Maritime Merchant City site in the U.K. The port served a key role in the transatlantic slave trade of the 18-19th centuries. These sites at least acknowledge what happened there and are valued for it, and still draw visitors.

    David Palmer is an associate professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and another expert we reached out to in order to get more insight. He's studied Japanese mining and wartime forced labor issues. He said this South Korea-Japan heritage dispute can be an area where they can come together to acknowledge shared history and the victims and move forward. He also offered the example of Austria and how it has dealt with its World War II legacy.

    [Clip: David Palmer]
    "There's a museum in Linz, Austria. It's called voestalpine contemporary museum and it's actually at the site of voestalpine steel fabrication plants. The company has cooperated with those setting up this museum. There are four sections in the museum. One of them is only on foreign forced labor, not on the holocaust but on foreign forced labor. The company has cooperated with this, it's on the company land and you can go in. It's in German and English and it's completely open. What this does is that it makes you look at this company, and Austrians look at it in a positive way because they're saying this happened and this is what we need to learn. We don't want this to happen again. If you ever want to have a reconciliation this is the way to do it. Just be open."

    RP: Palmer said a move in this direction by Japan could improve and change its entire image.

    But he said he thinks Japan won't take that path on its own unless there's strong international pressure.

    HP: In this situation, as with similar prior disputes between Seoul and Tokyo, the U.S., their common and most important ally, is seen as perhaps the key to mediating some sort of compromise

    RP: Sure. Washington has continuously encouraged dialogue and cooperation between South Korea and Japan to shore up their trilateral defenses and interoperability in the region, particularly in the context of the North Korea threat. However, with everything else that has been going on as of recently, the COVID pandemic and now the invasion of Ukraine, smoothing out Seoul-Tokyo relations is not a top agenda.

    HS: Where does UNESCO stand?

    RP: We reached out to UNESCO and they said they never comment on ongoing proceedings and it's necessary to wait for the World Heritage Committee to render its decision, which may be a favorable decision, an unfavorable decision or a request to rework the project and apply again the following year.

    It said for the Sado Mine, the Committee will examine the project and render its decision in the summer of 2023.

    Meanwhile, the nomination could be undermined by that other conflict involving Japan's Meiji Industrial Sites.

    Last year, the committee passed a resolution expressing strong regrets over Japan's failure to carry out its promise to include sufficient exhibits about the Korean victims of wartime forced labor at the Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo.

    Japan has until the end of this year to respond. It's very likely the Japanese government's action or inaction will impact the Sado Mine nomination. And we will be watching closely to see whether Japan makes good on its promise and falls in line with UNESCO's mandate to build peace through international cooperation.

    #사도광산 #군함도 #일본 #세계유산 #등재 #유네스코 #강제징용 #TBS #국제뉴스
    #SadoGoldMine #HashimaIsland #BattleshipIsland #Japan #SouthKorea #forcedlabor #UNESCO #worldheritagesite #WorldWarII #history

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