History Showdown: Koizumi Refuses to Revise Textbook

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Thursday Japan would not amend a controversial new history textbook despite repeated urging by China and South Korea. "I know there are various opinions but we cannot revise it," Koizumi told reporters.

He was speaking after a Chinese foreign ministry official summoned a Japanese embassy official late Wednesday to lodge another protest that the school textbook glosses over Japan's militarist past.

The Chinese official said the history textbook compiled by Japanese rightist scholars "advocates imperialism, and whitewashes and denies Japan's history of aggression."

Koizumi said Japan would "take the criticism gravely and strive for improving Japan-China relations by collecting wisdom on how we can understand and respect each other's stances."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference that Tokyo would respond to the Chinese request "sincerely."

The education ministry, which supervises the screening of school textbooks, will "consider how to cope with the matter after examining the content of the (Chinese) request," official Toru Funahashi said.

But he said Japan "cannot revise a textbook once it has been approved, unless it contains errors of fact." "Since we have strict screening, the approved textbooks do not contain mistakes basically."

The Japanese embassy in Beijing issued a list of eight areas in which China had grievances concerning the textbook's version of history, according to Kyodo News agency.

They included claims that Manchuria benefitted economically from investment by Japanese heavy industries. China maintains Japan plundered the resources there on a vast scale.

Beijing also complained that the Nanjing Massacre was only briefly mentioned in the book and there was no mention of Japan's notorious Unit 731, which conducted experiments on living Chinese prisoners to study germ warfare and the treatment of combat wounds.

The textbook has also provoked anger in South Korea where a series of anti-Japanese protests have been held. South Korea has called off a joint naval drill with Japan, slated for early next month, while demanding that Tokyo revise 35 "distorted" passages in the new Japanese book.

South Korea's ambassador to Japan Choi Sang-Yong said Thursday the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries would require the prior resolution of the textbook row.

"Although the FTA and textbooks seem totally unrelated, they are very deeply involved with each other," Choi said at a seminar held by the Research Institute of Japan.

Terusuke Terada, Japan's ambassador to Seoul, proposed last September that Japan and South Korea sign a free trade agreement to form a market of 170 million people worth 5 trillion dollars, two-thirds of the US market.

"If the trust between both peoples deepens, and we overcome this problem, it will have a very positive effect on the spirit of the FTA," Choi said, adding he was "very optimistic" about the outcome.

The book, approved by the Tokyo government after 137 modifications, avoids references to Japan's pre-World War II invasion of its Asian neighbours.

It also plays down events such as the Nanjing massacre and the use of tens of thousands of Asian women as sex slaves for Japanese troops.

The textbook was edited by the Society for History Textbook Reform, a group of avowedly nationalist Japanese historians who assert Japan has become too "masochistic" in assessing its past.

(China Daily 05/17/2001)

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