Efforts must be made to support World Heritage bid

The registration of the Sado Island Gold Mines as a World Heritage site has been delayed because of problems with the nomination document. The government must reflect on its mistakes and make all possible preparations to realize the registration.

The government has announced it will resubmit its nomination to UNESCO for the site to be added to the World Heritage list. The reason for this is because UNESCO said the original document was incomplete and did not send it to the advisory body.

According to the Cultural Affairs Agency, 10% to 20% of World Heritage applications are found to have incomplete documentation every year, but this was the first time for this to happen with a Japanese nomination.

The government had been leaning toward shelving the nomination of the Sado mines at the beginning of this year due to opposition from South Korea, which claims it was a site of forced labor.

The government ended up submitting the nomination in February, but its equivocal approach may have led to a lack of preparation.

UNESCO pointed out that, although the remains of a water conduit used to pan for gold are not complete, the nomination form lacked a description of this.

UNESCO does not allow nominations to be revised after submission. Japan asked for a reconsideration, claiming there was nothing wrong with the document, but the request was rejected.

The nomination will be resubmitted by February next year, making a listing in 2023 unlikely. Even if the registration is realized, this is not expected to happen until after 2023.

Niigata Prefecture and the city of Sado have been working for more than 20 years to get the site added to the UNESCO list. There were hopes that the listing would be a catalyst to revitalize the local economy, which has been in decline due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The disappointment has been huge.

UNESCO pointed out the problems at the end of February. The government kept this fact from the public for about five months until the decision was made to resubmit the application. It is only natural that the local community would have a heightened sense of distrust toward the government.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said the possibility of a negative impact on negotiations with UNESCO was the reason for the delayed announcement, but this is not convincing. The procedure must be made as transparent as possible.

Meanwhile, public and private sector opposition to the listing is increasing in South Korea, with its foreign minister directly expressing “strong concerns” to UNESCO’s director general.

However, South Korea’s claims are contrary to the facts and are unacceptable.

The Sado Island Gold Mines are highly regarded for being the world’s largest gold producer in the 17th century. The issue of workers from the Korean Peninsula to which South Korea refers pertains to a different period, during and after the Meiji era. The claim that there was forced labor is also not accepted.

The government needs to make every effort to gain the support of the international community by accurately communicating not only the cultural value of the Sado mines but also the historical facts as well.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 13, 2022)