July 07, 2015 13:05
In a rare public admission, Japan acknowledged Sunday that Koreans were "forced to work against their will" at industrial sites in southern Japan built during the Meiji industrial revolution.
The admission came in a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany on Sunday that was to decide the inclusion of the industrial sites on the world cultural heritage list.
Kuni Sato, Japan's ambassador to UNESCO, told the committee on Sunday, "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."
The Korean government wanted to use the term "enforced work," but Japan opted to use "forced to work."
But as soon as the industrial sites were included on the world heritage list, Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida backpedaled. "There is no change in Tokyo's stance that the issue of reparations has been fully and finally resolved in a 1965 bilateral pact with Seoul to normalize diplomatic ties," the minister was quoted as saying by Japanese media.
In interpreting the statement added to the world heritage decision as a footnote, Kishida claimed that "forced to work" is different from "forced labor."
The Abe administration is evidently hell-bent on continuing its whitewash of Tokyo's colonial and World War II atrocities. In order to hide the forced labor of Koreans at the industrial sites, Japan initially sought to list the industrial sites as active between 1850 and 1910. Japan annexed Korea in 1910.
Seven of the 23 Meiji industrial sites that have been added to the world heritage list were scenes of forced labor. Some 58,000 Koreans were forced to work there, and 94 of them died toiling in horrendous conditions.
One of them, Hashima Island, was also known as "Hell Island" because people who were dragged off to work in the mines there never came back.
Korea and Japan had been engaged in tricky diplomacy to get Tokyo to admit the taint of forced labor on the Meiji industrial sites. That they had to argue about this at all highlights the abnormal relations between the two countries. As long as the Abe administration keeps up its deranged efforts to whitewash history, Seoul and Tokyo can never grow closer together.
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