The United States was against Japan's bid to gain world heritage status for a building damaged in the Hiroshima atomic bombing, records showed Thursday, as keen attention is being paid to U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the city.
On May 27, Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima since the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on the city on Aug. 6, 1945, to end World War II.
Critics in the U.S. and elsewhere have raised concerns the highly symbolic visit could serve as a pardon for Japan's wartime aggressions. The White House has said Obama aims to "highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
Inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where Obama is expected to visit, the skeletal ruins of what used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall serve as a reminder of the atomic bombing.
In 1996, Japan recommended the building, commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome, as a candidate site for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The move was met with opposition from China and the U.S., which highlighted the suffering caused by Japan during the war.
"The United States is dissociating itself from today's decision to inscribe the Genbaku Dome on the World Heritage List," the U.S.
said in a statement to the World Heritage Committee, posted on UNESCO's website. Genbaku Dome is the Japanese name for the site.
The U.S. noted the close friendship and alliance between the two nations, saying they cooperate on security, diplomatic, international and economic affairs around the world.
"Even so, the United States cannot support its friend in this inscription," the statement said. "The United States is concerned about the lack of historical perspective in the nomination of Genbaku Dome. The events antecedent to the United States' use of atomic weapons to end World War II are key to understanding the tragedy of Hiroshima. Any examination of the period leading up to 1945 should be placed in the appropriate historical context."
The dome was designated a world heritage site in December 1996.
With Obama's visit, the apparent shift in Washington's stance could be attributed to a converging of interests in recent years as the U.S.-Japan alliance has grown stronger in the face of a rising China, observers say.
Cho Yang-hyun, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, however, cautioned against exaggerating the political undertones.
"The visit will serve a greater purpose for President Obama's personal agenda for a world without nuclear weapons," he said.
"Framing it as reconciliation with history is unrequited love on Japan's part."
South Korea, which suffered under Japanese colonial rule from 1910-45, has refrained from making direct comments on the U.S. decision. More than 20,000 Koreans were direct victims of the Hiroshima bombing.
"This is an issue of considerable interest to us, so our interests have been explained to the U.S.," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said during a regular press briefing. "We continue to hold talks." (Yonhap)