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(LEAD) Culture minister denounces Japan for reneging on pledge to honor wartime labor victims

Diplomacy 17:27 June 25, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more background in paras 8-9)

SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's culture minister on Thursday criticized Japan for failing to fulfill its promise to honor victims of wartime forced labor in a new museum on its industrial revolution sites.

In a strongly-worded post on Facebook, Culture Minister Park Yang-woo denounced Tokyo for opening its new Industrial Heritage Information Center on the 23 UNESCO-designated sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution without proper explanation of the forced labor that took place on the sites during World War II. The museum opened on June 15 in Tokyo.

Upon the 2015 designation, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called for Japan to prepare an interpretive strategy that allows an understanding of the "full history of each site." Tokyo then agreed to take such steps as remembering the victims by establishing an information center.

"As promised to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and member nations, (Japan) should not leave out the historical records of numerous Koreans being forced to work under severe conditions against their will," Park wrote on Facebook.

"History must be based on the truth and a false history cannot be called history. Admitting to past wrongdoings is what an individual or a nation ought to do. It is also the courageous thing to do," he said. "Covering up and not acknowledging the truth is like a confession of not being courageous or confident."

A file photo of Park Yang-woo, South Korean culture minister, speaking at a launch event for a government committee in central Seoul on June 19, 2020, aimed at promoting tourism and service industries. (Yonhap)

Park also called on the Japanese government to "apologize for cover ups and distortion of history" and become an honest member of the international community.

The culture ministry also shared a poster image on its Facebook account calling on Japan to keep its promise. The poster includes an image of Japan's Hashima Island, which is one of the UNESCO-designated industrial sites, with the hashtag "#keep_your_word" underneath it.

According to a South Korean government report released in 2012, about 500 to 800 Koreans are believed to have been made to work in cramped and stifling spaces at undersea coal mines on the island off the coast of Nagasaki between 1943 to 1945, and 143 of them died there of diseases, malnutrition and accidents. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

The island is also called Battleship Island for its silhouette resembling a destroyer.

On Wednesday, Kim Jung-han, director-general for Asia and Pacific affairs at Seoul's foreign ministry, held video talks with his Japanese counterpart, Shigeki Takizaki, urging Japan to take steps to keep its promise in honoring wartime forced labor victims at the museum.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also sent a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay on Monday asking UNESCO to consider removing Japanese industrial revolution sites from the World Heritage list in a bid to pressure Japan to keep its pledge.

A poster produced by the South Korean culture ministry calling on Japan to keep its promise to honor wartime forced labor victims in a newly opened museum on industrial sites registered on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The culture ministry provided this image on June 25, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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