Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural body, conferred Sunday the world heritage status to 23 sites in Japan that the nation claims are representative of its industrial revolution under emperor Meiji in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan’s attempts to get the sites on the list had earlier faced stiff opposition from South Korea, as many of the locations were sites of forced labor drawn from the Korean peninsula in the 1940s.
Japan, however, regards the sites, located in eight prefectures, as having played a central role in the country’s industrialization of the heavy industries such as iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal mining, from the 1850s until 1910.
In a statement submitted to the Unesco’s World Heritage Committee Sunday, the Japanese government reportedly said that it is “prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites, and that, during World War II, the Government of Japan also implemented its policy of requisition.”
The committee’s members, including South Korea, backed Japan’s bid after the latter’s delegation said that it would also “incorporate measures into the interpretive strategy to remember the victims, such as the establishment of [an] information centre.”
Tensions between the two Asian nations stem from Japan’s annexation of the Korean peninsula in 1910. Thousands of Koreans and Taiwanese nationals were pushed into forced labor in harsh conditions, eventually leading to their death, and several others were executed as prisoners of war. Thousands of Korean women were also forced into prostitution by the Japanese military between 1910 and 1945.
In August last year, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese soldiers killed during World War II, had angered South Korea and China.
However, South Korea’s decision to back Japan’s Unesco claims further thaws the frosty relations between the neighbors. Last month, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se traveled to Tokyo for the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.