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Japan defends wartime island as dispute grows with Seoul

Japan said it has taken follow-up measures to implement the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, days after South Korea's foreign ministry requested the cancellation of a UNESCO endorsement for Hashima Island. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA
Japan said it has taken follow-up measures to implement the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, days after South Korea's foreign ministry requested the cancellation of a UNESCO endorsement for Hashima Island. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA

June 24 (UPI) -- Japan is defending its policy regarding Hashima or "Battleship" Island as a dispute grows with South Korea over the island's UNESCO endorsement.

Tokyo's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday at a regular press briefing Japan has "faithfully" followed through with recommendations from the World Heritage Committee, NHK reported.

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Suga also said Japan's position remains "unchanged."

Last week, South Korea filed a complaint with the Japanese government following an exhibit in Japan on sites of Japan's Meiji-era Industrial Revolution. Seoul said the exhibit "distorted historical facts" about sites where Korean wartime laborers worked in harsh conditions.

Japan received a UNESCO endorsement for 23 major industrial sites built in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. In 2015, Seoul said Japan forced nearly 60,000 Koreans to work in slave labor conditions at 11 of the sites.

Following a UNESCO recommendation, Japan had pledged in 2015 to "acknowledge the existence of people who had been brought to the Korean Peninsula, and taken steps to honor them," according to South Korean news service News 1.

Japan's dismissal of South Korean allegations recently prompted Seoul's foreign ministry to take action.

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On Monday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha delivered a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, requesting the cancellation of the UNESCO endorsement for Hashima Island and other sites. Kang also urged Japan to take "full follow-up measures."

Nam Sang-gu, a South Korean analyst with the Northeast Asian History Foundation, said Japan is using the UNESCO designation to "beautify its history," South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Wednesday.

Shin Hee-seok, a legal scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul, told the paper South Korea could take the issue to the International Labor Organization.

"The South Korean government and parliament must be active persuading the Japanese people," Shin said.

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