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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday rejected China’s demand to revise a controversial junior high school history textbook, but said he will work to improve ties with Beijing.

“We cannot carry out revisions,” Koizumi told reporters at his official residence. “But we will take the criticism in a serious manner and try to improve Japan-China relations by thinking of ways to understand and respect each other’s positions.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, the top government spokesman, said at a news conference, “We cannot do anything more than closely examine the contents of the request and sincerely deal with it.”

The government faces a similar demand from South Korea, but maintains that it cannot revise textbooks unless they contain factual errors.

“All the descriptions China has demanded be revised are points that have already been revised in response to the ministry’s instructions,” a senior official of the Education Ministry said on condition of anonymity. “We have used sufficient caution on those points.”

The official said China’s request caught ministry officials off guard.

Akinori Takamori, spokesman for the Society of History Textbook Reform — the group that authored the controversial textbook — described China’s demands as biased.

“We hope the Chinese government will understand there are various views on history,” he said. “It has presented a demand that contains their thoughts, which are more nationalistic and biased compared with those of South Korea. We hope the Japanese government will take a firm stance on the issue.”

The Chinese government summoned a senior Japanese diplomat to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing on Wednesday and presented a list of demands to change the contents of the textbook.

Beijing sees the book, which has been approved by Tokyo for classroom use, as Japan’s attempt to rewrite the history of the 1931-1945 war with China.

According to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Cheng Yonghua, deputy director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of Asian affairs, delivered a memorandum detailing the demands to Yoshio Nomoto, the No. 2 official in the embassy.

Beijing raised eight issues with the textbook and asked the Japanese government to implement the changes, the embassy said.

Among these are the omission of any reference to the vast biological experiments the Japanese military conducted on live prisoners of war in China.

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said Beijing demanded that Japan take measures to correct “serious mistakes in the history textbook fabricated by rightist scholars.”

Xinhua said Cheng told the Japanese diplomat that the history textbook compiled by the group of rightists “advocates imperialism, and whitewashes and denies Japan’s history of aggression.”

Unless the textbook is revised, the Chinese official said, it “will seriously mislead Japanese society and the younger generation in their viewpoint on history.”

The textbook has also drawn strong protests from Seoul, which charges that it distorts the history of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

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