Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has told the Diet that he plans to promote joint history studies by Japan and its two Asian neighbors, China and South Korea, under existing research exchange programs.

“It is important to promote mutual understanding . . . with China, South Korea and other neighboring nations,” the prime minister told a House of Councilors plenary session on Friday. “In this context, I would like to promote various activities” under the programs.

Koizumi made the remarks in response to a question by a ruling bloc lawmaker over South Korea’s demands for revisions to several history textbooks that critics say gloss over Japan’s wartime aggression.

Toshiko Hamayotsu of New Komeito proposed that Japan, China and South Korea launch joint studies by historians aimed at mapping out a common view of their shared history.

Koizumi said that compiling a view of this kind “would not be easy,” adding only that he will take note of the suggestion.

The prime minister said, however, that Japan will continue to promote existing exchange projects. These began in 1995 and include the joint compilation of historical documentation.

South Korea requested Tuesday that Japan make 35 specific revisions to eight history textbooks that were recently approved by the Education Ministry for use in classrooms.

These include one text compiled by a group of nationalist academics and their supporters.

Earlier in the day, Atsuko Toyama, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said her ministry plans to have history experts participate in discussions on the government’s response to South Korea’s demands.

“We would like to take (the demands) seriously and respond sincerely,” Toyama told a news conference following a Cabinet meeting.

Commenting on the revisions proposed by Seoul, Toyama said, “In order to conduct detailed investigations, academically, professionally and objectively, I would like to borrow the wisdom of not only those within the ministry but of history scholars.”

Toyama was, however, noncommittal on the issue of when the ministry might reach a conclusion on the matter.

“There is a need for thorough consideration, and I cannot give a time limit,” she said.

Toyama suggested it will be difficult for the ministry to reach a conclusion before a planned meeting of Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers at the end of the month.

Also during the day, Toyama met with Choi Sang Yong, South Korea’s Ambassador to Japan, who explained his government’s demand.

According to Japanese officials, Toyama assured the ambassador that Japan will “take (the demand) seriously and probe into it in good faith.”

She also said that Japan will conduct a review “from an academic and professional standpoint” with the help of experts from various fields, the officials said.

During the meeting, Choi did not submit any formal written demands but voiced the South Korean government’s requests, which he said were the result of objective and scholarly study, according to the officials.

Requesting that Japan examine the matter thoroughly, Choi said he hopes to return to South Korea with adequate explanations from the Japanese government, the officials added.

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