Korea’s diplomacy put to test as Japan pushes ahead with UNESCO bid for Sado mines

Korean Ambassador to Japan Yun Duk-min looks at a map inside the Sado gold mine in Niigata, Japan,  Dec. 1, 2023. Courtesy of Korean Embassy in Japan

Korea’s diplomatic abilities will face a critical test in the coming weeks as Japan pushes to include the Sado mines — a contentious wartime site linked to forced labor of people including Koreans — on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The final decision regarding the inscription will be made during the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) session in New Delhi, India, from July 21 to 23. The meeting will gather all 21 members of its rotating committee, which includes both Korea and Japan this year.

Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, Friday, that Korea may officially oppose the Sado mines’ inclusion in the World Heritage list, unless Japan includes the history of forced labor in its nomination bid.

According to UNESCO guidelines, a property’s inclusion on the World Heritage list requires a two-thirds majority vote from committee members present. However, decisions are typically reached through consensus, with formal voting only occurring when consensus cannot be achieved beforehand.

“Whether we will oppose it or not depends on Japan,” a ministry official told reporters during a closed-door briefing.

“We are considering not obstructing a consensus formation if our position is reflected adequately. But if our stance is not acknowledged, we may potentially delay a consensus and push ahead with holding the vote,” the official said.

In other words, Seoul would not categorically oppose Tokyo’s bid for inscription on UNESCO’s list unless it properly incorporates the mines’ wartime history and forced labor in its submission letter to UNESCO.

The mines on the island of Sado were used for manufacturing war-related materials during World War II. Historical documents 토토 show that nearly 2,000 Koreans were forced to work there during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

In its letter of recommendation submitted to UNESCO, the Japanese government described the mine as having value of its mining technology and system from the 16th century until the mid-19th century, effectively excluding its 20th-century wartime atrocity.

The Korean government has been demanding Japan include the full account of the mine’s history, including the forced labor of Koreans.

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