Japan approves textbook glossing wartime atrocities

Risking new rows with its neighbors, Japan authorized for school use a nationalist-written history textbook which China and South Korea accuse of glossing over Japan's wartime atrocities.

The education ministry said Tuesday it approved the controversial book as one of eight that can be used to instruct students aged 13 to 15 from April 2006.

The book is an updated version of the textbook which triggered formal protests from Beijing and Seoul upon its release in 2001.

Japan's relations with South Korea have deteriorated recently, with Seoul alleging that Tokyo is acting like a colonialist for renewing its claim to a chain of uninhabited rock islands in the Sea of Japan.

South Korea told Japan last month that it disapproved of the textbook.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Tuesday that Japan was ready to discuss the issue with South Korea. The two countries' foreign ministers are to meet on Thursday in Pakistan on the sidelines of an Asian regional meeting.

In approving the revised textbook, the education ministry demanded 124 changes to tone down some of the right-wing assertions, but other deeply controversial points remain.

The book avoids the word "invasion" when it refers to Japan's military occupation of other Asian countries in the first half of the 20th century.

It also refers to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre -- in which some historians say at least 300,000 civilians were slaughtered by Japanese troops -- as an "incident" in which "many" Chinese were killed.

The book teaches students that "no single country steered completely clear of killing or abusing unarmed people," while admitting the Japanese military was among those that committed "unfair murder and abuse" of people of enemy countries.

The book published by Fuso Publishing was penned by the Society for History Textbook Reform, a group made up of avowedly nationalist historians who assert Japan has become "masochistic" in assessing its past.

The history textbook was adopted in 2002 by less than 0.1 percent of schools, all of them for children with disabilities, although it became an instant bestseller when it went on sale at general bookstores in mid-2001.

On the Korean Peninsula, the Fuso book had originally said: "The US and European military powers approved Japan's annexation of Korea in return for Japan's approval of their colonial rule (elsewhere)."

But under ministry orders, the wording was altered to: "The US and European military powers did not oppose Japan's putting Korea under its influence."

Four other approved textbooks also refer to the Nanjing Massacre as the "Nanjing Incident" while their accounts of the number of Chinese victims vary.

Only one of the eight approved texts mentions the euphemistically called "comfort women", the sex slaves taken from other Asian countries, particularly Korea, to serve in frontline brothels for Japanese soldiers.

A separate civics textbook by Fuso refers to the islets at the center of the dispute with Seoul as "under illegal occupation by South Korea".

Another chain of islands in the East China Sea disputed with China are described as Japan's "sovereign territory but China claims it".

Source: China Daily/agencies

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