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Japan's Past Threatens Chances for World Heritage Site

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

South Korea, on Tuesday, objected to Japan’s request to add historic locations to the UNESCO World Heritage sites. South Korea wanted Japan to admit that Koreans were forced to work in the coal mines, steel factories and shipyards during World War II.

This is the latest development in a longstanding dispute between the countries over Japan’s wartime activities.

Japan has proposed 23 sites to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, for consideration. The sites show how Japan became the first Asian nation to enter the industrial age from 1850 to 1910.

Both South Korean and Chinese officials have voiced opposition to seven of the 23 possible new World Heritage sites. They say about 60,000 laborers from Korea and China were reportedly forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions in those areas. One of the sites is the island of Hashima off the coast of Nagasaki. It was once an underwater coal mine. Today, very few people live there. But the island did serve as a featured location in a recent James Bond film.

Recent discussions between South Korea and Japan on this issue have failed to resolve the dispute.

Yoshihide Suga is Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. He says the UNESCO nominated sites should be considered separate from the ongoing dispute over Japan’s military control of Asia in the 1900s.

Critics say Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refuses to offer a strong apology for Japan’s wartime actions. Some of those actions include forcing thousands of women into prostitution.

Robert Kelly is an international relations professor at Pusan National University in South Korea. He says Japan’s critics have a valid complaint.

“The Koreans are terribly shrill about this and they demonize Japan far too much but I can understand why. The Japanese have a terrible tendency not to admit these kinds of things,” said Kelly.

Prime Minister Abe has said he will support apologies made by past leaders for Japanese misconduct during the war. But he caused controversy when he visited a World War II memorial that included some Japanese war criminals.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to meet with Prime Minister Abe until he makes a “sincere apology” for past wartime abuse. However, both South Korea and Japan continue to work together on security and trade issues.

The World Heritage Committee is expected to make a decision on Japan’s request during a meeting in Germany at the end of June.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

prostitutionn. the work of a prostitute; the act of having sex in exchange for money

shrilladj. loud and difficult to ignore but often unreasonable

siten. a place where something important has happened

Do you agree with South Korea’s demand? Or do you think that UNESCO should consider the sites separate from the ongoing dispute over wartime activities?

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