By: Yi Whan-woo

The Korean government is dragging its feet on whether to work with Beijing to win UNESCO recognition for documents belonging to China that hold details of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Asian women during World War II.

According to the Chinese government, UNESCO recommended Beijing to make a joint bid with other nations after its independent bid was rejected last week to register its documents on the list of the Memory of the World.

China’s foreign ministry hinted at joint efforts being made with Korea and other nations whose women were victimized by Japan during the war.

However, the Korean government has been reluctant on whether to accept the proposal.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday it should be “determined at a civic level” first.

“The Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea (WHRCK) has been dealing with the related issues and it’s them who can make decisions over those issues,” ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said.

The Seoul-based WHRCK is an organization under the wing of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

Commission officials also said there have been no discussions on China’s offer.

In fact, the commission has been seeking to register a file of Korean documents on Japan’s wartime sex slavery on the list of the Memory of the World.

This is a collection of documentary heritage endorsed by UNESCO.

The collection includes books, letters, postcards, photos and video documentaries that offer information on certain aspects of human history.

Beijing said Monday that it will “review and make a profound study” into the proposals made by the UNESCO over related documents on Tokyo’s state-sponsored sex crimes.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova turned down China’s offer to endorse the written records related to Japan’s sex slavery during the International Advisory Committee’s (IAC) biennial meeting in Abu Dhabi from Oct. 4 to 6.

The IAC is an advisory group for UNESCO in the latter’s decision over the Memory of the World. Based on the IAC’s recommendation, a UNESCO chief decides whether to endorse candidates for the world documentary heritage or not.

Bokova only accepted China’s bid over the written records on the Nanjing Massacre, in which the Japanese Army murdered up to 300,000 civilians and unarmed combatants from 1937 to 1938 in Nanjing, China.

Analysts said the Seoul government is trying to “stay away” from a joint bid with China deliberately amid signs of improving Korea-Japan ties.

Japan has been refusing to make an apology over its wartime sex slavery, saying any related compensation was fully paid in 1965 when Seoul and Tokyo normalized their diplomatic relations.

They also said the possible UNESCO bid with China could add to speculation that Seoul is leaning toward Beijing over Washington.

“One of President Park Geun-hye’s tasks in her U.S. trip will be to show such speculation is not true,” said Kwak Jin-o, a senior researcher at the Northeast Asian History Foundation.

“Under such circumstance, it won’t be a good idea to make a public announcement over Korea-Beijing cooperation on history.”