Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on the afternoon of the 28th that he would recommend the Sado Mine in Niigata Prefecture as a “excellent cultural heritage site” and recommend it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In particular, he said, “The entire government will respond to various claims, including historical circumstances, by setting up a task force with the participation of relevant ministries.” It was an all-out war at the Japanese government level.
Immediately after Prime Minister Kishida’s announcement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea announced that it would launch a task force involving ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the Cultural Heritage Administration, as well as related public institutions and private experts to block the registration of the Sado mine as a World Heritage Site.
As both Korea and Japan form a task force related to the Sado mine, it is expected that an omnidirectional historical debate will unfold in the future. The strained relationship between Korea and Japan is also expected to deteriorate further.
○ Kishida, swayed by the hardliners of the LDP
Prime Minister Kishida’s return to recommending the Sado mine as a World Heritage site despite South Korea’s opposition is interpreted as sympathizing with the hardliners ahead of the July House of Representatives elections. Hard-liners within the ruling LDP have emphasized that “if we do not recommend this year, the conservatives will turn their backs on the election and have a huge negative impact on the election.” Within the Japanese government, prudence prevailed regarding the initial application. Last year, UNESCO introduced a system that prohibits registration as a World Heritage Site if there is objection from member countries, and Japan led the system. The Japanese government also saw that it could be difficult to register as a World Heritage Site if South Korea opposes it.
However, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisted on the 27th, “As long as[Korea]has waged a ‘historical war’, it should not be avoided.” On the 24th, Sanae Takaichi, a far-right female politician in Japan, called “woman Abe,” said, “It has to do with the honor of the country. It must be recommended this year.” A diplomatic source familiar with the situation at the prime minister’s residence said, “Niigata Prefecture also requested a recommendation, saying, ‘It’s okay to leave’. As Prime Minister Kishida, there is no pressure on the outcome, so I leaned toward the recommendation.” Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on the 28th that he supports Prime Minister Kishida’s decision.
○ Another historical war between Korea and Japan following warships
The Japanese side is arguing that the World Heritage application has nothing to do with forced labor because it limited the scope of the application to the history of the Edo period (1603-1867).
However, the Korean side emphasizes that the fact that at least 1,141 Korean workers were forcibly mobilized during the Pacific War in order to reflect the full history should also be specified in the recommendation letter. It is estimated that more than 2,000 Koreans were conscripted in Japan last year.
At the UNESCO Commission headquarters in Paris, France, there is also a negative atmosphere in Japan’s decision. When Japan registered the warship island (Hashima Coal Mine) as a heritage in 2015, Japan promised, “It will properly inform the history of the fact that many Koreans and others were mobilized against their will and forced to work,” but they did not keep it. In July of last year, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution requesting Japan to improve the warship island, stating that there was “not enough explanation for the victims of war conscription.” Kim Dong-ki, Ambassador of Korea’s representative to UNESCO, said, “Japan’s application will be accepted as disregarding UNESCO’s authority.”