South Korea Calls on Japan to Drop Heritage Push for Labor Sites

South Korea called on Japan to reassure neighbors about its defense expansion and drop plans to seek world heritage status for sites where Koreans were used as forced labor last century.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se made the remarks during his meeting yesterday with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting in New York, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said on its website.

One of the potential heritage sites, known as Battleship Island, was featured as the villain’s hideout in the most recent James Bond movie, “Skyfall.” South Korea says Koreans were forced to work at the mining facility before and during World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to raise the country’s defense budget for the first time in more than a decade has rattled relations with its Asian neighbors. Japan occupied South Korea from 1910 until its defeat in the war in 1945 and sent about 150,000 Koreans into forced labor in Japan, according to the South Korean government.

“Yun expected Japan to strengthen its defense and security posture in a way that dispels neighbors’ worries and doubts arising from past history,” the ministry said. “Yun asked Japan to reconsider seeking UNESCO world heritage status for the modern industrial sites of Kyushu and Yamaguchi suffused with the painful history of our people being forced to work.”

Forced Labor

More than 31,100 Koreans were forced laborers in Kyushu and Yamaguchi during the Japanese occupation, according to the Commission on Verification and Support for the Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism in Korea, which is affiliated with the prime minister’s office.

Japan is seeking world heritage status for sites on the island of Kyushu and the neighboring prefecture of Yamaguchi.

The talks between Yun and Kishida marked the second high-level meeting between the neighbors since Abe took office in December and South Korean President Park Geun Hye in February.

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