National

Japan rebuts China and South Korea's protests over textbooks outlining stance on disputed islands

Kyodo

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that the government “firmly rebutted” China and South Korea’s protests over its approval of elementary school textbooks that describe disputed island groups as Japan’s territory.

“We received complaints from China and South Korea based on their own positions, but we firmly rebutted them,” Suga said at a regular news conference.

“It is extremely important that descriptions of the nation’s territories and history are written correctly in textbooks so that children can understand them properly,” Suga said. “They are the results of screening conducted from a fair and neutral perspective based on academic discussions by experts.”

The textbooks, which reflect the position of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on territorial issues, are the first to be approved by the education ministry for the academic year beginning April 1, 2020. Their approval on Tuesday was based on guidelines adopted in 2017.

All six social studies textbooks to be used by fifth- and sixth-grade students say that the South Korea-controlled Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan, which Seoul calls Dokdo, and the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China and Taiwan, are an “inherent part of Japan’s territory.”

A ministry advisory panel tasked with screening textbooks urged some publishers to add a description saying that Japan has lodged protests with South Korea for its control over Takeshima, as well as the government’s position that there is “no dispute” over the Senkakus, according to the ministry.

Seoul reacted sharply to the move Tuesday, releasing a statement saying it “strongly condemns the Japanese government’s approval” of the textbooks and summoning Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine to lodge a protest.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, “China’s position on the Diaoyu Islands issue is clear and consistent,” using China’s name for the Senkaku Islands.

“The Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times. No matter what Japan says, this reality cannot be changed,” Geng said.

Japan’s claim to Russian-held islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has already been taken up in elementary school textbooks.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology revises the curriculum guidelines roughly every 10 years.

The latest version, in 2017, said that all of the islands and islets in the three areas are Japan’s “inherent territories.”

Amid Abe’s ambition to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution, one of the social studies textbooks explains that some people are in favor of amending the supreme law, which has remained intact since taking effect in 1947, while others are opposed to the move.

And given growing awareness over sexual minorities in the country, some health education textbooks mention people whose biological sex does not match their gender identity.

In addition, all seven of the English textbooks that were submitted were endorsed. The language will be taught as an individual subject to fifth- and sixth-grade students from the 2020 academic year.

The students are expected to learn more than 600 English words in the two years, and many textbooks are designed to encourage students to communicate with each other through group discussions. Some textbooks listed links to publishers’ websites that provide supplementary voice and video materials.

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