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South Korea demanded Saturday that Japan take “visible action” over recently approved Japanese junior high school history textbooks that critics say whitewash Japan’s past military aggression, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Han Seung Soo, South Korean foreign affairs and trade minister, made the demand during a meeting at a Beijing hotel with Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka.

“Japan should take visible actions, such as by making revisions to the textbooks,” Han reportedly told Tanaka. “Please relay this message to the prime minister (Junichiro Koizumi) and the Education Ministry.”

“We hope the prime minister will take leadership in building ties with neighboring countries,” Han said, adding that the atmosphere in South Korea on the issue is “severe.”

Tanaka sought understanding from Han during the 75-minute meeting, telling him that approved textbooks do not necessarily reflect the historical views of the Japanese government, the official said.

She informed him the Education Ministry is closely examining South Korea’s demands that Tokyo make 35 revisions by August to the eight textbooks approved by the ministry in early April, the official said.

Tanaka also proposed expanding the ongoing bilateral academic and youth exchanges that aim to resolve the two countries’ differences over history, according to the official.

South Korea and China have criticized the textbooks for distorting history and glossing over wartime atrocities committed by Japanese troops before and during World War II.

Han also expressed concern over Koizumi’s plan to officially visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial for Japan’s war dead, saying he hopes Japan will “consider the feelings of nearby countries and deal with the matter carefully,” according to the official.

Tanaka said Koizumi’s planned visit is not intended to glorify or justify Japan’s wartime past.

Koizumi has said he will visit the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. While a number of Cabinet members visit the Shinto shrine each year, usually on the anniversary, most claim they are doing so in a private capacity.

Visits to the shrine by Japanese public figures have been criticized by Asian countries, including China and South Korea, that were invaded by Japanese troops before and during World War II.

The shrine honors about 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars since the mid-19th century. Seven hanged war criminals are commemorated there, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.

Tanaka and Han also reconfirmed the importance of coordination with the United States in formulating policies toward North Korea as Washington is currently reviewing its North Korea policy, the official said.

They also reconfirmed that their governments will make efforts to reinforce bilateral ties ahead of the cohosting of the World Cup soccer finals in 2002, which has also been designated a year of grassroots exchanges between the two countries.

The two welcomed the healthy bilateral relations that have been improving since the 1998 visit to Japan by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.

Tanaka and Han agreed to attempt to ensure the smooth running of events scheduled in both countries next year, the official said.

Han requested that Japan work toward allowing South Korean nationals to visit Japan without a visa to reciprocate the current system in which Japanese nationals can make visa-free trips of up to 30 days to South Korea.

Tanaka said she will make “positive efforts” to that end, the official said.

Tanaka also explained to Han that deliberations are ongoing in the Diet over a bill that would allow permanent foreign residents of Japan — many of whom are South Koreans — to vote in local elections.

Han said he understands the issue will take time but expressed hope for an early passage of the bill, the official said.

On the economic front, the two touched on ongoing working-level talks to conclude a bilateral investment agreement, saying they hope to proceed with the talks that began in September 1999.

Tanaka and Han were in the Chinese capital after attending a two-day foreign ministerial conference of the Asia-Europe Meeting that ended Friday.

They also had the chance to speak with each other informally in English during the ASEM sessions, but used their native languages in Saturday’s talks. Tanaka and Han also held talks on the telephone April 27 — a day after Tanaka became foreign minister.

At the beginning of the talks Saturday, Han congratulated Tanaka on her appointment as foreign minister and on her public appeal.

Too much talk: Tanaka

BEIJING (Kyodo) Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka said Friday after an Asia-Europe Meeting foreign ministerial conference that international events waste too much time on formalities such as participants reading out statements prepared by bureaucrats.

The diplomatic rookie voiced hope that proceedings would be simplified to allow representatives to have more free and frank discussions.

She also said she was surprised to find that many other foreign ministers shared her view on the matter and echoed the need to enable world leaders to conduct in-depth deliberations during international meetings.

Tanaka broke from the typical Japanese practice of speaking through interpreters during the meeting and made all her comments in English. She also met informally with many delegates during breaks and spoke to them in English.

In the ASEM sessions Thursday and Friday, Tanaka presented Japan’s views on North Korea, U.N. reform, the global environment and the pending launch of a new round of multilateral trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization.

The ASEM conference is aimed at reinforcing political and economic dialogue between Asian and European countries as well as promoting cultural and other ties between the regions.

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