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The Peninsula

International Forums as Battlefields of Bilateral Disputes

Published February 7, 2022
Author: Korea View

What Happened:

  • On February 1, Tokyo moved forward with the recommendation that a gold and silver mine on Sado Island that had used forced labor during WWII receive UNESCO heritage status.
  • Seoul described Tokyo’s move as an attempt “to cause conflict with member states and politicize UNESCO.”
  • In 2015, the coal mine on Hashima Island received UNESCO heritage status with the understanding that the Japanese government would acknowledge the use of forced labor on the site. But in 2018, the World Heritage Committee found that Japan has not yet appropriately provided information on victims at this site.

Implication: Bilateral disputes between South Korea and Japan are increasingly discussed at international forums. The dialogue at UNESCO on the status of the Sado Island mines will shape the ongoing dispute between the two countries over the appropriateness of the Japanese government’s recognition of Korean victims during WWII. Tokyo is driving this effort to seek international arbitration, taking similar action during the 2012 dispute over the status of the Dokdo Islands and 2020 complaint with the World Trade Organization regarding the Korean government’s support for domestic shipbuilders.

Context: In recent months, South Korean survey respondents expressed stronger animosity towards China than any other country. However, the revival of the historical debate may once again raise negative public sentiments towards Japan. There have been multiple past disputes over Japan’s failure to appropriately recognize the victims of forced labor and sexual violence during the war. These debates over history remain a major point of tension between the two countries despite their shared security concerns such as North Korea.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of mega_midget_racer

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