Japan’s heritage exhibition under fire from S. Korea for whitewashing wartime labor

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TOKYO, June 15 (Xinhua) — An exhibition in Tokyo which opened Monday showcasing UNESCO World Heritage sites associated with Japan’s industrial revolution, has come under criticism from South Korea for negating to provide information about Koreans’ forced labor at some of the sites during World War II.

Following the exhibition’s opening, Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Koji Tomita was summoned by the South Korean Foreign Ministry where an official protest was lodged about Japan failing to honestly disclose and pay regard at the exhibit to the Korean victims who were forced into labor at some of the sites during the war.

While the exhibition does, purportedly, portray testimonies from second-generation Korean-Japanese residents at the sites, these have been denounced by South Korea as being distorted, as they essentially deny the fact that Koreans were routinely subjected to slave labor and discriminatory practices at the sites.

South Korea had previously opposed Japan adding 23 sites covering eight prefectures here to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list, under the banner of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.”

This was due to Korean nationals being coerced and forced into slave labor at seven of the sites during Japan’s brutal wartime colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

South Korea’s complaint at Japan adding the sites was withdrawn, however, on agreement with Tokyo that it would provide honest and comprehensive facts about the harsh labor conditions at the sites.

“We cannot but feel very worried and disappointed that we cannot see any kind of effort to commemorate the victims in any part of the exhibit,” a South Korean ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying in a statement on the issue, while also expressing “deep remorse” over Japan reneging on former promises not to whitewash the issue.

The controversial exhibition is the latest contribution to strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul who have been at odds since South Korea’s top court ordered a Japanese firm to pay compensation for the forced labor of Korean nationals during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese side has maintained that the highly controversial matter of it forcing its neighbor’s citizens into hard labor during the war was settled by a 1965 pact, which saw Tokyo pay Seoul some 500 million U.S. dollars under the banner of “economic cooperation.”

The bitter diplomatic row stemming from the wartime labor dispute went on to spill over into trade and security areas.

While some trade restrictions have since been lifted and related talks held as recently as earlier this month, both sides have said that while improving ties in areas such as people-to-people exchanges remain important, there remains a gulf in opinion on a number of pertinent diplomatic and trade matters. Enditem

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