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Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and South Korean Ambassador to Japan Choi Sang Yong agreed Wednesday that an apology issued in 1995 by then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama should be the basis for resolving the issue of a controversial Japanese history textbook.

Choi said he believes Japan and South Korea can overcome their differences on the textbook issue if they conduct a dialogue based on the spirit of the 1995 Murayama statement and the 1998 Japan-South Korea joint declaration, a ministry official said. “In South Korea, people are concerned that recent moves in Japan are going against this spirit. The situation in South Korea is very severe, and the president (Kim Dae Jung) is also having a hard time dealing with it,” Choi was quoted as saying.

Tanaka concurred, adding that carrying out what was mentioned in Murayama’s statement is the only way to prove its truth, according to the official.

In his statement, Murayama offered his “heartfelt apology,” saying Japan followed a mistaken nationalistic policy before and during World War II and caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations.

The 1998 joint declaration, building on Murayama’s statement, says the two countries should overcome their “unfortunate” history and build a future-oriented relationship based on reconciliation and cooperation.

South Korea, China and other countries have been protesting Japan’s approval in April of a textbook they say contains passages glorifying Japan’s military aggression against other Asian countries before and during World War II.

Tanaka, who praised Murayama for ignoring the many objections raised at the time and following through with his intention to issue the statement, indicated that new Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has personality traits similar to Murayama’s, the official said.

“I had been looking in vain for someone who would be able to take after this quality of then Prime Minister Murayama, but I think Prime Minister Koizumi is authentic,” Tanaka was quoted as telling Choi during their 40-minute meeting at the ministry.

“He is very frank, has a strong will and is trying to tackle his duties with all his heart and mind, so I hope you and all of the South Korean people will trust and support him,” Tanaka said.

Asked whether he thinks the prime minister is eccentric, Choi, who has met Koizumi twice, said he considers him a reform-minded individual, according to the official. During the 1998 race for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party presidency, Tanaka described the three candidates in simple terms: Koizumi as an eccentric, Keizo Obuchi as an ordinary person and Seiroku Kajiyama as a military man.

Tanaka told Choi she hopes to make her first visit to South Korea in the near future and has received invitations from several people and groups, including Lee Hee Ho, President Kim’s wife, the official said.

The ambassador mentioned that many South Korean newspapers have expressed interest in interviewing Tanaka since her appointment as foreign minister last week, saying she enjoys popularity not only in China but also in South Korea, according to the official.

“The popularity likely stems from your views on Asia and history and your outlook on politics, which you have inherited from your father, the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. Your ideas seem to have struck a sympathetic chord with many South Koreans,” Choi was quoted as telling Tanaka.

Petition tops 100,000

A South Korean YWCA has collected 102,500 signatures demanding Tokyo revise a recently approved school history textbook that critics say attempts to justify Japan’s aggression toward Asian nations before and during World War II, members of the group said Wednesday.

In a news conference at a Diet building in Tokyo, the members of the Young Women’s Christian Association said they collected the signatures April 11 to 26 in South Korea and will submit them to Japan’s Education Ministry, which approved the book authored by a group of nationalist academics.

The petition also calls for the revision of other history textbooks that skirt the issue of “comfort women,” the euphemism for women, mostly from the Korean Peninsula, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war, the members said.

The petition also urges local education boards nationwide not to authorize the use of the textbooks at schools, the members said, adding that Japan has hurt the national pride of South Korea and distorted history by approving the books.

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