UNESCO Declares South Korea World Heritage Site

ké explosé

Disclaimer: Don’t take this seriously.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced on Tuesday an unprecedented decision to inscribe the Republic of Korea onto the World Heritage List. The unexpected move marks the first time an entire country has been designated a World Heritage site, and has drawn heavy criticism from neighboring Japan.

A spokesperson for UNESCO explained that the decision became inevitable when the number of World Heritage applications from South Korea stretched the Paris-based organization to breaking point. By designating the entire country a World Heritage site, UNESCO is hoping to preempt all future applications from South Korea.

“We had 35 applications last year alone,” said Pavlova d’Xerxes, UNESCO’s regional executive coordinator for Asia and the Pacific. “It was taking up 80 to 90 percent of our entire budget. Two of our interns had nervous breakdowns.”

The final straw is thought to have come when an association of residents of Tower Palace, a prominent residential complex in southern Seoul, submitted a 350-page application for World Heritage List inscription for their high-rise towers, citing outstanding universal value in the form of “enduring material testimony to plutocracy-based architectural ostentation and exquisite concrete pouring skills of early-twenty-first-century Korean craftsmen.”

While the news has been welcomed by many Koreans, one civic group has been left enraged by what it calls “serious omissions” from the scope of the designation.

The Grand National Patriot Alliance for 5,000-Years Sparkling Homogeneity issued a press release on Wednesday morning, saying, “Many ancient wooden temples in Japan were designed and built by master craftsmen of Baekje [a former kingdom located in southwestern Korea]. It is incomprehensible that these have not been included in the recent UNESCO World Heritage designation.”

But the issue doing most to inflame regional tensions is Dokdo, rocky islets off South Korea’s east coast that are claimed by both South Korea and Japan. A map of South Korea as a national World Heritage site included in UNESCO’s Tuesday press release clearly shows the outline of Dokdo. However, the island is neither specifically labeled on the map nor mentioned in the text. The ambiguity has precipitated a flurry of diplomatic activity in Seoul, Tokyo and Paris.

Despite the controversies, mainstream South Korean media have reacted with delight. On Wednesday afternoon, Do You Know Dokdo, a civic group dedicated to promoting “K-everything” on the world stagenominated UNESCO to receive the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

ké explosé is a satirical news service from Korea Exposé. 

Cover image: The entire nation of South Korea becomes a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, but it’s not clear whether Dokdo is included. (Source: Ulleungdont via Wikimedia Commons, CCA SA-3.o)

Ben Jackson is Korea Exposé's environment editor. He studied languages at undergraduate level and has an MA in Korean Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.