Japan has dismissed criticism from China and South Korea over new school textbooks that push its claims to disputed territories and, according to critics, sanitise its wartime conduct.
South Korea summoned the Japanese ambassador to Seoul on Tuesday in protest at the textbooks, which assert Japanese ownership over Takeshima, two rocky islets that are administered by South Korea.
In addition, all 18 of the new social studies texts, which will be used in junior high school classes from next April, say that the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands – the flashpoint for a longstanding dispute between Tokyo and Beijing – are “inherently” Japanese.
Chinese state media also responded angrily to the decision to use the word “incident” in some of the books to describe the Nanking massacre in December 1937.
It is the first time that all social studies textbooks for junior high schools – for children aged 12 to 15 – have repeated government claims to the territories.
The textbooks’ claims on contentious territorial and historical issues reflect the growing influence of Japan’s revisionist movement, led by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Abe, a conservative and enthusiastic supporter of patriotic education in Japanese schools, has previously angered South Korea by claiming that up to 200,000 mainly Korean women who worked as wartime “comfort women” were not coerced into sexual slavery by Japanese military authorities.
This year the three countries will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, and there is growing speculation that Abe will mark the occasion with a statement that attempts to play down past atrocities by removing references to Japanese aggression on the Asian mainland in the first half of the 20th century.
Japan’s neighbours have urged it to leave unchanged an official apology issued in 1993 that acknowledged the military’s role in forcing women into sexual slavery, as well as a 1995 statement apologising for the country’s wartime conduct.
South Korea’s foreign ministry called the textbooks’ content “yet another provocation that distorts, reduces and omits clear historic facts to strengthen its unjust claims to what is clearly our territory”.
Noh Kwang-il, a ministry spokesman, said: “The Japanese government is in effect saying it will repeat its mistakes of the past when it [offers] a distorted historical view and territorial claims based on that [view] to a generation of Japanese who are growing up. It shows Japan doesn’t have any will to play a responsible role as a trusted neighbouring country.”
Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said the textbooks were designed to avoid “misunderstandings” among pupils. “Our country’s textbook screening is carried out impartially and neutrally, based on professional and academic deliberations,” Suga told reporters.
“Since our country’s stance on Takeshima and history recognition have been consistent, we responded to [South Korea] by saying we cannot accept their protest.”
In China, the state news agency, Xinhua, accused Japan’s “increasingly right-leaning” leaders of taking their revisionist beliefs into the classroom. Xinhua noted that a previous textbook passage recalling that Japanese troops had “killed many captives and civilians” in Nanking had been replaced with the more innocuous claim that captives and civilians had been “involved”.
The extent of the slaughter is still the subject of debate, although mainstream historians say Japanese troops killed as many 200,000 people in the eastern Chinese city. Conservatives in Japan insist the number of victims was much lower, while Chinese historians have put the death toll at 300,000 men, women and children.
Abe and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met briefly for the first timeat the Apec summit in November, but Abe has not held proper talks with Xi or the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, since he became prime minister in December 2012.
Source: The Guardian