As countries clash over WWII heritage sites, changes to UNESCO guidelines worry experts

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(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.

Accordingly New York Times report“Korean workers are mentioned in only two lines of events spanning centuries hanging on the wall, with no indication of forced labor.”
Sado residents see the nomination as an opportunity to attract international tourists to the mines, which is Open to visitors.

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.

In the same month, Announced Japan South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it would pass the nomination despite opposition from South Korean officials, a move that “ignores the painful history of forced labor for Koreans.”

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.

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.

But this time Japan is at risk Hypocritical label For such actions. Last year, it successfully requested that UNESCO amend its Memory of the World (MOW) competition rules, which are dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage.

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’

The former site of a mass grave in Nanjing, China, is known as the “10,000 pile of corpses”. Huge hall covering an area of ​​more than 100,000 square meters The Nanjing Massacre, now known as the Massacre, commemorates the countless thousands who died during the Japanese army’s attack in 1937.
According to the travel agency, it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in China China Discovery.

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.

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.

For Korea, “colonial experiences are still a traumatic memory” as survivors continue Demand compensationSays Suh.
But Japan has long denied that the wartime government was directly responsible for the “Comfort Woman” system and has in recent years sought to whitewash its dark history by seeking to remove references to women’s comfort. US textbooks And pressure on governments around the world Remove monuments.
UNESCO nominations were no exception: Japanese organizations submitted their own “Comfort Woman” counter-nominations, featuring women as legal prostitutes. And as UNESCO’s largest financial contributor at the time, Japan also blocked it Annual funding in 2016 and 2017Puts pressure on the nomination process to meet its requested revisions.
A statue of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bowing down "Comfort woman" Pictured July 28, 2020 at the Korea Botanic Gardens in Pyongyang, South Korea.

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

The Executive Board of UNESCO ruled that each party should discuss the issue with the hope that a joint nomination could be submitted between all parties. It became a provision Official Guide to 2021 After Japan demanded a comprehensive review of competition rules.

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.”

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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.

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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 "The memory of the world" Program

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.”

However, contrary to the new MOW rules, there is no provision in UNESCO’s World Heritage Competition to require dialogue if the nomination is controversial, meaning that Korea cannot “veto” Japan’s Sado Maine nomination – a fact that some people in the country Double standard.

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.

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.

In late April, UNESCO announced this year’s session Will be postponed. No new dates have been announced.

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.

The naming of documents about the Shanghai Jews in the MOW register is “an important way to clarify historical facts” and opposes the possible re-nomination of Sugihara documents by Japan, which could lead to “an incomplete and misunderstood government by the international community.” The recommendation states.
Dr.  The statue of Hee Function, often referred to as "Chinese Schindler" To help Jewish refugees escape Nazi persecution, they are on display at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum.

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

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