Japanese and South Korean historians on March 23 issued a report on the second round of discussions on the shared history of the two nations. Objections to nationalistic content of a history textbook approved by Japan’s education ministry led to the two countries agreeing in 2001 to launch the first joint-history study group, and opinions on the subject of textbooks remain particularly contentious.

The second study group began in June 2007 and involved 17 scholars from each country. In addition to textbook content, it covered the areas of ancient history, middle-age to near-modern history, and modern to contemporary history. The South Korean scholars said that Japanese textbooks’ coverage of the Japanese military’s use of sex slaves, many of whom were Korean, has dwindled since 1996 as conservative trends have become more pronounced in Japanese society. The Japanese academics complained that South Korean textbooks fail to mention Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution and barely cover Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s Aug. 15, 1995, apology concerning Japan’s 20th-century colonialism and wars of the 1930s and ’40s.

The South Korean side said that Japan recruited Koreans as forced laborers and “comfort women” in a systematic and deceptive way, but the Japanese side insisted that Japan had no systematic policy in either regard. The South Korean side did accept that during the war years, many Koreans voluntarily moved to Japan to seek employment.

The two sides were divided over the teaching of the Japanese language in colonial Korea. The Japanese side said that many Koreans avidly studied Japanese as a means of gaining knowledge and work skills. The Korean side pointed to the coercive environment surrounding the teaching of Japanese.

Bickering also continued over Takeshima (known as Dokdo in South Korea), a group of disputed islets in the Sea of Japan.

It will be extremely difficult for the two nations to find a common view of their shared history, but for each to gain a clear understanding of the other’s stance is a big step toward true mutual understanding. The joint studies should continue.

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