Japan's decision on Monday not to make further changes to the modern history section of a controversial history textbook has triggered new cries of disapproval from the country's Asian neighbours. It will further upset the already strained bilateral ties with those countries, particularly China and Republic of Korea (ROK).
According to Japanese media, the decision was made on Friday when Education Minister Atsuko Toyama met Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and had what officials called the final discussion on the matter.
The decision was met with strong opposition from ROK and China when it was formally conveyed to them through diplomatic channels on Monday. It is sure to arouse strong indignation from other Asian countries which were also victimized by Japan during World War II and earlier.
To underline its opposition, a senior official from the ROK Government said the nation would take all necessary measures to protest the decision.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education also stressed their dissatisfaction and resentment.
The strong reaction is to be expected as the Japanese textbooks include serious distortions of historical facts leading up to and during World War II.
Last Monday, Tokyo-based Fuso Publishing Co, one of the eight publishers of the controversial junior high school textbooks, announced that the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a right-wing group and authors of the book, will "voluntarily" rewrite nine parts of the text, including several describing Japan's pre-war history in the region.
The revision, obviously under pressure from both within and outside Japan, involves only trivial changes that would not help correct the erroneous representation of history that runs through the textbooks. Now the Japanese Government appears determined to not allow any further revisions in the hope of closing the door on the textbook dispute once and for all.
However, it has miscalculated the situation as many people who have been victims of Japanese aggression will refuse to give up their fight to correct the wrongs in Japanese textbooks.
By throwing its weight behind the misleading textbooks concocted by Japan's right-wing forces, the Japanese Government risks both its relations with neighbouring countries and its own reputation as a responsible government.
If the diplomatic row over the textbook issue continues, Japan will become more isolated in Asia and the world at large. Such a situation can only harm the island country.
Ever since the Japanese Government gave the green light to the textbooks in early April, Japan's Asian neighbours have been demanding heavy amendments to the texts and an honest appraisal of history from the Japanese Government.
The Japanese Government, however, has failed to shoulder the responsibility of redressing the errors in the textbooks.
A statement on Monday by Japan's Education Ministry said "Under the current textbook screening system, it is up to the authors to decide what historical facts to include in their books... Under the existing system, we cannot force inclusions of certain points."
This explanation is hardly convincing.
How can it persuade people into believing that the Japanese Government can do nothing to stop indisputable errors being taught in middle schools? Incorrect textbooks will perpetuate lies. The Japanese Government should not be so ignorant as to ignore this damage.
Neither should it be indifferent to the feelings of victimized countries in Asia.
More than half a century ago, Japanese militarists brought untold suffering to people in Asian countries by waging war. Half a century later, when many people are still crippled from the bitter memories of Japan's wartime atrocities, the country has chosen to hurt their feelings again by publishing history textbooks which are reluctant to tell its people about the country's terrible deeds.
Because Japan has never seriously faced up to its wartime crimes, Japan's right-wing forces, including prominent politicians, have tried in one way or another to whitewash the country's infamous past in recent years.
Every such move has only reinforced victims' memories about history and rubbed salt into their wounds.
The issue of history textbooks is not an isolated case, but rather a result of a consistent denial of history that has prevailed in Japan since the 1950s. Right-wing forces in Japan have long criticized the history textbooks currently used in Japan as "masochistic."
The right's new textbooks try to condone Japan's colonial rule and wartime aggression.
Such a perception of history cannot possibly lead to texts that faithfully reflect the truth.
Despite loud voices from people both within and outside Japan, the Japanese Government has done little to restrain the country's right-wing forces. Rather, from time to time its prominent members have spoken in one voice with the extremists.
Its tolerance to right-wing forces will further deepen people's fears about where Japan is heading.
If a country cannot come to grips with its own history, there is no guarantee it will not repeat the same errors.
(China Daily 07/12/2001)