SEOUL – South Korea will recall its ambassador to Japan on Tuesday to protest the approval of a nationalist-authored history textbook, South Korea’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry said Monday.
“Ambassador Choi Sang Yong will be back home (Tuesday) to hold talks on how to respond to the coming release of the controversial history textbook,” ministry spokesman Kim Eui Taek said.
Choi will return to Japan after completing talks on the textbook issue, Kim said.
The move will be the toughest diplomatic action against Tokyo yet by the government of President Kim Dae Jung, who has sought to warm the chilly ties across the Sea of Japan since taking office in 1998. Analysts say the decision to call home its envoy signals that Seoul has decided to take tougher action against the controversial textbook.
The South Korean government has been under fire from the opposition camp as well as many Korean people for its “lukewarm” response to Tokyo’s approval of the text in the face of severe criticism.
Seoul claims the textbook distorts history, particularly Japan’s wartime atrocities in Asia.
Earlier Monday, a South Korean parliamentary group formed to promote relations with Japanese lawmakers decided at the National Assembly to postpone its annual meeting with the Japanese side to protest the textbook’s approval.
The group will also send a delegation to Japan later this week to further protest the textbook issue.
The three-day meeting of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians Union was set to begin May 4 in Seoul.
The group is headed by former Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil, who is honorary chairman of the United Liberal Democrats — a coalition partner of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party.
Kim visited Japan from March 7 to 14 as a special envoy of Seoul to ask Japanese leaders not to harm Seoul-Tokyo relations by authorizing the controversial textbook.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima said the Japanese government will not push for a revision of the disputed textbook, and will continue asking Seoul to understand that the government does not produce the textbooks.
“The Japanese government does not make a particular historical interpretation through the textbook screening process,” Kawashima said at a news conference.
Kawashima said Choi visited him at the Foreign Ministry on Monday afternoon and explained the difficult situation at home, before Seoul announced Choi’s temporary return in the evening.
South Korea also plans to set up a group of government officials and experts in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss action against the textbook.
The government panel, reportedly to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister for Education and Human Resources Development Han Wan Sang, will include officials from the foreign affairs, culture and tourism, education and human resources development ministries.
The textbook, compiled mainly by members of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a group of nationalist historians and their supporters, was approved April 3 by an Education Ministry screening panel.
In response, South Korea on Wednesday lodged a formal protest, which was conveyed to Japanese Ambassador Terusuke Terada, who was summoned to a meeting with Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Han Seung Soo.
“It is very regrettable that (the new history textbook) includes content beautifying and rationalizing Japan’s past aggression, based on a self-centered interpretation of history,” the spokesman quoted Han as telling Terada.
Han also urged Japan to take “sincere action” to remedy the situation, saying the distortion of history is so serious it may harm the basis of the two countries’ friendship.
Terada told Han that Japan’s screening process for history textbooks is carried out with full consideration for neighboring countries, according to the spokesman.
Earlier Wednesday, officials of concerned South Korean ministries met to discuss ways to protest Japan’s approval of the textbook.
At this meeting, headed by Yim Sung Joon, deputy foreign minister, participants said the history presented by the textbook is a critical matter that may damage friendly relations.
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