Row over tampering of historical facts

Suvendrini Kakuchi

New history textbooks that glorify Japan’s wartime past and distort facts of the country’s past colonisation of East Asia have heightened anti-Japanese sentiment in China and South Korea.

However, some Japanese academics remain adamant that the textbooks record the ‘’true and correct’’ stance of Japan in World War II. “Sixty years after the end of World War II, Japan is now mature enough to voice whatever it thinks,’’ said Toshiyuki Shikata, an international relations professor at Teikyo University when commenting on the new textbooks. The Japanese government this week approved the books that deleted past references to Korean and other Asian “comfort women’’ who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II. The new history textbooks also state that Japan ‘’owns’’ the disputed Takeshima Island in the Sea of Japan, much to the chagrin of South Korea, which has overlapping claims and refers to the island chain as Dokdo.

To add salt to Seoul’s wounds, an ordinance was passed by Shimane prefecture in March to establish “Takeshima Day’’ that legally recognises the territory as under Japanese jurisdiction.

South Korea Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, Ban Ki Moon, strongly condemned the move that marks the anniversary of the Japan’s victory in the Russia-Japan war and Moscow’s formal cessation of the disputed islands. He told his Japanese counterpart, Nobutaka Machimura, at a conference in Pakistan Thursday that it was a step taken by Tokyo to “glorify history and teach a distorted version of it to young people.’’

The new textbooks that will be used in public junior high schools from April 2006 added fuel to fire in China and South Korea — two countries that suffered the worst under Japan’s colonisation of most of Asia. Television screens this week showed anti-Japan demonstrations in both countries with protestors burning Japan’s national flag and attacking Japanese shops. China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei said Beijing stood firm that the text books were not acceptable and said Tokyo’s position, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese.’’ Still, top-level officials in Tokyo seemed unfazed despite their neighbours’ fuming anger. “Japan and South Korea have different ways of looking at history. I don’t see why the dispute over textbooks and Takeshima should affect overall relations that are based on good economic and cultural ties,’’ said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. His stance was echoed in mainstream

Japanese media that have mostly highlighted anti-Japanese demonstrations as the result of China’s nationalistic education.

Komzawa University professor Osamu Nishii, a senior expert on constitutional reform, claims ‘’Japan must be brave and clear about its history. Only then can we be accepted as a country that can participate in the UN Security Council,’’ he explained. Japan wants a permanent seat in the to-be-revamped Security Council, and is lobbying hard for favourable votes when the UN meets in September. But other analysts are not too happy with the position adopted by Japan in relation to the textbooks. Gebhard Hielscher, a German writer and commentator on the issue of Japan’s war history, said Japan sill had the chance to resolve its current strained ties with China and South Korea before the upcoming UN Security Council decision this fall. ‘’I hope PM Koizumi will understand that trying to whitewash Japanese colonisation will not clear anything and only make the future of fostering ties really difficult,’’ he pointed out. — IPS