An ongoing diplomatic row with South Korea and China over some history textbooks could enter a new phase next month.
Government sources on Wednesday said Tokyo will unveil the results of its review of the two Asian neighbors’ revision requests in the middle of July.
But they indicated the government will not make drastic, if any, modifications to the textbooks, which South Korea, China and domestic critics claim whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities and aggression against its Asian neighbors.
This prospect will further aggravate Japan’s already tense relations with South Korea and China over the textbook and other issues, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s declared plan to visit Yasukuni Shrine.
The shrine is a memorial to Japan’s war dead, including war criminals from World War II, and the planned visit is for Aug. 15, the 56th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War.
Japan is also locked in bitter spats with both countries over economic issues.
The sources said that the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has almost concluded the process of hearing opinions from unidentified experts on the revision requests, which were officially filed with Tokyo last month.
Based on the hearings, the ministry will compile a report on its investigation results and publicly release it, probably by the middle of next month, the sources said.
The sources said, however, that no drastic revision will be made to the eight textbooks in question, including one authored by nationalist academics of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.
It is even possible that no revisions will be made to any of the textbooks, the sources said.
The ministry screens all texts used in Japanese schools and approved the highly controversial, right-leaning text in early April.
That sparked an uproar not only at home but also among Japan’s Asian neighbors, especially South Korea and China.
In early May, the South Korean government officially demanded that Japan make 25 revisions to the textbook, which Seoul claims attempts to justify Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until its 1945 defeat. The South Korean government also demanded 10 additional alterations to the seven other junior high school texts.
In handing revision requests to Terusuke Terada, Japanese ambassador to Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung Soo explained his government’s stance.
“Distortions in some of the textbooks reopen old wounds in the minds of (South) Korean people,” he said, “and harm the (South) Korea-Japan friendship that is set to grow stronger in the future.”
China followed South Korea’s example soon afterward by making an official demand that eight revisions be made to the nationalist-authored textbook.
Tokyo pledged to closely examine the demands. All along, however, the Japanese government has refused to make drastic modifications to the disputed textbooks.
On May 8, when Seoul filed revision requests with Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that revisions to the already screened school materials would be unlikely unless “an obvious error” is found.
Recently, relations between Japan and South Korea — already seriously damaged by the textbook and Yasukuni issues — have worsened over a fishing dispute.
Last week, Tokyo notified Seoul of its decision to bar South Korean fishing boats from operating in waters off the Sanriku region of northeastern Japan.
The move came in retaliation for South Korea’s signing of a fishing agreement at the end of last year with Russia covering waters around islands off northeastern Hokkaido that were seized by Soviet troops immediately after World War II that ever since have been claimed by Japan.
In Japan, the disputed islands are known as Etorofu, Kunashiri, the Shikotan Islands and the Habomai islet group. The long-standing territorial dispute has so far prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty formally ending wartime hostilities.
South Korea on Monday lodged a formal protest against the Japanese decision to bar its fishing boats from waters off the Sanriku region and demanded a quick retraction.
With the string of disputes lengthening, there is now growing concern in both Japan and South Korea that it may have a negative effect on the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, which the two countries will cohost.
Meanwhile, two other events have soured relations between Japan and China.
In April, Beijing became incensed when former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui made his first visit to Japan, albeit in a private capacity. Around the same time, a trade spat developed into tit-for-tat sanctions.
Communist China still regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, even if it takes military force. Japan switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China when it established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1972.
The trade row began when Japan imposed what it calls “safeguard” import restrictions on some Chinese agricultural products to protect domestic farmers. China retaliated last week by announcing special 100 percent import tariffs on Japanese automobiles, mobile phones and air conditioners.
Although Japan and China had wanted earlier this year to realize Prime Minister Koizumi’s first official visit to Beijing this autumn, the trip is becoming increasingly uncertain because of the rapidly deteriorating bilateral ties.
Koizumi took office in late April, succeeding Yoshiro Mori.
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