Japan has reaffirmed that it has no legal responsibility left for the wartime forced labor of Koreans despite its acknowledgment of such history at UNESCO, media here said Monday.
Having two dozen old industrial locales listed as world heritages, Japan openly said, "There was a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites."
It avoided the more straightforward expression of "forced labor" in the statement, a result of negotiations with South Korea.
South Korean officials noted it was rare for the Japanese government to admit its wartime brutality on the global stage.
At home, however, Japan downplayed it as a diplomatic measure in connection with the world heritage.
Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida drew a clear line between the country's statement in the UNESCO session and a controversy over its legal responsibility with regard to the forced labor during World War II.
There is no change in Tokyo's stance that the issue of reparations has been "fully and finally resolved" in a 1965 bilateral pact with Seoul to normalize diplomatic ties, the minister was quoted as saying by Japanese media.
In interpreting the statement added to the world heritage decision as a footnote, Kishida added, the wording "forced to work" is different from that of "forced labor."
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Kishida's reported comments appear to be intended for the domestic audience for political reasons.
"The English version (of Japan's relevant statement) has been officially adopted by the World Heritage Committee," he said. "Its contents mean by international standards and practice that there was forced labor."
But he said Seoul sees no direct link either between Tokyo's move at UNESCO and the compensation issue. (Yonhap)