South Korea fights another war of history with Japan as Tokyo tries to register wartime coal mines and shipyards served by Korean slave laborers as UNESCO heritage sites.
The two Northeast Asian neighbors have already been in a dispute over Japan's refusal to properly apologize to the victims of Japan's sex slavery during World War II and compensate them.
Historians say more than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced to serve as sex slaves during the war, when the Korean Peninsula was under the Japanese colonial rule.
The battlefield of diplomacy for the second history war is UNESCO, based in Paris.
At issue is Japan's bid to register its early industrial facilities as UNESCO world heritage sites.
The 23 candidate sites, which Japan claims are symbolic of the "Meiji Industrial Revolution," include several coal mines and shipyards where tens of thousands of Koreans worked as slave laborers during Japan's imperialistic past.
"The UNESCO listing is a pet project of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," a government source here said Tuesday. "Japan is lobbying very hard to get the sites registered."
The International Council on Monuments and Sites, an expert group to review applications, is expected to decide whether to support Tokyo's move as early as next week.
It will then announce a decision in mid-May for recommendation to the World Heritage Committee. The panel plans to hold a meeting in Germany from June 28 to July 8.
South Korea is strongly protesting against Japan's attempt, saying it is a "matter of a moral problem."
"Listing those facilities laden with the pain of a neighboring country violates the spirit of the UNESCO world heritage list," Seoul's foreign ministry said in a statement.
It does not make sense to compare it with the listing of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, which was inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1979, officials here stressed.
Germany is known for its sincere apology for its wartime atrocities and Auschwitz is meaningful as a reminder of the need not to repeat such a tragic history, but Japan is a different case, they added.
Seoul's foreign ministry formed a task force to counter Tokyo's campaign.
It is led by Choi Jong-moon, former ambassador to Sri Lanka and current ambassador for cultural and UNESCO affairs.
This week, South Korea also named another veteran diplomat, Lee Byeong-hyun, as ambassador to UNESCO.
Dozens of lawmakers here sponsored a draft resolution denouncing Japan's push and calling for the South Korean government to make all-out efforts to foil it.
But it's apparently not an easy task to vote down Japan's campaign, with Tokyo wielding a lot of influence over the organization with huge financial contributions and a wide web of cultural diplomacy networks.
"This is not without a positive sign, though. A number of countries, especially those in Southeast Asia, are showing sympathy with South Korea's position," the government source said. (Yonhap)