(CNN) – In January, news of Japan’s plans to designate several gold and silver mines on Sado Island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site sparked outrage in South Korea, which remembers the site as something totally different from Japan’s designation.
The nominees highlight the history of the mines, especially during the Edo period from 1603 to 1857.
But the Koreans see it as a conscious attempt to ignore the brutal history that the Koreans suffered under Japanese occupation during World War II. An estimated 1,500 Koreans were recruited to work in the mines during the war.
This is not the first time Japan’s World Heritage Sites have sparked controversy: some of the country’s Meiji industrialization sites – Yamaguchi Prefecture and its museums in Nagasaki now proudly marketed with UNESCO labels – have been criticized by South Korea for not accepting its use. Forced labor there.
And it is only the latest public conflict in East Asia in the ongoing saga of controversy over World War II-related UNESCO nominations.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida talks to reporters in Tokyo on January 28, 2022 about recommending the Sado mines as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Masanori Genco / AP
Over the years, Japan has publicly complained about the lack of transparency and fairness in UNESCO.
The new rule requires countries that disagree on a MOW nomination to enter a “dialogue phase”.
Experts say it could essentially give countries a veto power over descriptions of heritage and history, which is related to development.
“Competition does not require a specific rationale. It can therefore be abused by members,” said Kung-ho Suh, chairman of Korea’s Memory of the World National Committee, where he helps advise the country’s nominees.
“So what if Russia objects to the Ukrainian nomination?”
‘Unsettled Shadows of the Wartime Past’
In 2015, China nominated a collection of documents from the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, along with other archives about the genocide, in UNESCO’s MOW Register.
People visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China on October 10, 2015.
Str / AFP / Getty Images
The nomination angers Japan, which has been trying to rediscover itself as a “peace-loving Asian democracy” since World War II, says Edward Vickers, a professor of comparative education at Kyushu University in Japan.
“They are trying to save him [image] Frightened by these shameful and uncomfortable shadows of the war time past, “he says.
The Nanjing massacre in particular has long been a sensitive issue between the two countries as Beijing claims that Japan has failed to atone for it properly. Despite Japan’s claims of lack of transparency and impartiality, the documents were successfully entered into the UNESCO register in 2016.
The 2017 cycle pushed Japan to the brink when 14 organizations from eight different locations, including China, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan, formed a joint committee to nominate a collection of documents entitled “Voices of Comfort Woman”. This collection details the stories of women from Japanese-occupied countries who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
On July 28, 2020, at the Korea Botanic Garden in Pyongyang, South Korea, a statue depicting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holding a deep bow to a “comfortable woman” is depicted.
Devong Kim / Reuters
But to date, no dialogue has taken place and the “Comfort Woman” nomination is in abeyance. UNESCO said in a statement to CNN that it was “continuing to find the terms for this dialogue and will continue to do so.”
The San Francisco-based human rights coalition, The Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC), says the discussion from the Japanese side has met with “fierce resistance” and that UNESCO’s director general has not responded to repeated requests for a meeting. They say the nomination should not be bound by the new rules as it was submitted before it was implemented.
The CWJC wrote in a statement to CNN that “there is a lot of hypocrisy going on.”
“All of these governments and organizations claim to be for ‘women’s rights,’ as the United Nations does, however. Makes it permanent. Which embarrasses and silences the victims … allows such gender-based violence to continue. “
Victim documents stored in the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. In 2015, UNESCO added them to its “Memory of the World” program.
Zhang Peng / Lightrocket / Getty Images
Why countries want a UNESCO ‘approval stamp’
The new guidelines also stipulate that MOW nominations – such as those in the UNESCO World Heritage Program – must now receive national approval before proceeding to international competition. Previously, any independent organization could submit nominations.
This means that political parties will make the final decision on who is nominated, says UG Xu, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Research School of Humanities and the Arts.
For East Asian countries, which consider UNESCO status extremely important, it is “almost like a stamp,” says Xu. “If you have a stamp on it, it becomes a true, authentic version of the past.”
UNESCO maintains that it does not comment on or engage in relations between member nations but notes that “all research” was unanimously approved by the 58 member states of the UNESCO Executive Board, including the countries mentioned. [China, Japan and South Korea]Following a comprehensive review requested by the Executive Board and led by the member states. “
Requests for comment sent to Japan’s National Commission for UNESCO and the Agency for Cultural Affairs were not returned.
A visitor looks at a wall of names of Jewish refugees at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum on December 8, 2020.
Ren Long / Xinhua / Getty Images
Observers are waiting to see how the new rules will affect the current MOW nomination cycle. Submissions close in November, but final decisions will not be made until 2023.
Meanwhile, the 45th annual meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee – where members vote on site nominations – was to be held in the Russian city of Kazan in June.
Japan and China are at odds over Jewish history
The Jewish heritage in Shanghai – where about 20,000 Jews took refuge during World War II – has the potential to become another UNESCO-related flashpoint, researchers observe.
In 2017, the then Japanese ambassador to Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, submitted a record of visas issued to thousands of Jews fleeing Europe during the war. But the nomination failed and no clear reason was given for its rejection.
Those who have visited the museum in the past may not recognize it today – in 2020, the museum reopened after years of lengthy expansion. It now covers about 5,000 square meters of Shanghai’s Tilakiao area and contains about 1,000 items donated by survivors on display.
But in addition to commemorating the Jewish heritage in Shanghai, the government seems to have other motivations: it wants to go further than Japan.
Dr. Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum to help Jewish refugees escape Nazi persecution. Statue of He Fangshan, often referred to as “The Chinese Schindler”.
Ren Long / Xinhua / Getty Images
In this memory war, Japan would have shot itself in the leg.
In an executive paper on the commemorative competition between Japan, Shu-Mei Huang of the National Taiwan University writes that institutions in Japan “may proceed to submit an application without state approval if MOW does not amend its nomination rule under Japanese lobbying.” And China.
Representatives of the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum told CNN that it was “currently learning about the relevant rules of the UNESCO Memory of the World Selection” but did not say whether it had submitted a Shanghai nomination this year.
“China is ready to promote itself in a way that can help such Jewish victims,” says Huang, “although the number of Jews fleeing Shanghai – and those who” saved the Jews of Shanghai “- is the subject. To discuss: Both China and Japan have overstated the number of “saved” Jews by their countries.
When the war ended in 1945, most of the Jews left Shanghai before the communists – who still rule China – gained national control.[1945માંયુદ્ધસમાપ્તથયુંત્યારેમોટાભાગનાયહૂદીઓએશાંઘાઈછોડીદીધુંતેપહેલાંસામ્યવાદીઓ-જેઓઆજેપણચીનપરશાસનકરેછે-દેશપરકબજોમેળવ્યો
Huang says the “Olympic Games”, which have been turned into UNESCO nominations, have “fallen victim to heritage and memory”.
Top Image: Photos of survivors on display at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in Nanjing. Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images