Japan revised school teaching manuals to emphasize its claims over islands disputed with China and South Korea even as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again called for talks with the leaders of both countries.
“I am actively seeking contact with China and South Korea,” Abe told parliament yesterday, adding that he had exchanged greetings with South Korean officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week and was pushing for a mechanism to avoid naval clashes with China. “I hope they will respond to our requests for talks.”
Abe’s comments came hours after Japan’s Education Ministry said it was changing guidelines for middle- and high-school teachers to make clear its view that East China Sea islands at the heart of a dispute with China, as well as islets separately disputed with South Korea, are an inherent part of Japan’s territory.
Japan’s relations with China and South Korea have soured over the territorial spats and differing views on the past. Tensions spiked in December when Abe paid respects at a war shrine in Tokyo regarded by both countries as a symbol of Japan’s previous aggression. Abe hasn’t held a summit with either country since taking office in December 2012.
“Our country has effective administrative control of the Senkaku islands and there is no territorial dispute that requires resolution,” the new middle school guidelines will read, according to e-mailed documents from the Education Ministry. The manuals did not previously refer to the islands, which are known as Diaoyu in China. The guidelines also strengthen language relating to islands known as Takeshima in Japan which are controlled by South Korea, where they are called Dokdo.
“Teaching children correctly about their country’s inherent territory is a matter of course,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko told reporters yesterday in Tokyo. Seko said he wanted to explain the changes to Japan’s neighbors and there was no particular reason for their timing.
The move drew an angry response from South Korea and China, days after the new president of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK attracted criticism by appearing to justify Japan’s use of so-called “comfort women” at military brothels in parts of Asia before and during World War II.
“Japan is teaching its growing generation lies by again rattling on with groundless claims about Dokdo,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters yesterday. “Our government demands this be withdrawn immediately. Should Japan fail to respond, our government will sternly move forward with appropriate measures.” Cho didn’t say what action could be taken.
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” about the move and said it “could not change the basic fact that the islands are Chinese territory,” Japan’s Jiji news agency reported.
The proposal isn’t the first time that Japanese textbooks have strained relations with neighbors. Thousands of Chinese, angered over Japan’s portrayal of wartime atrocities in textbooks introduced in 2005, protested across Beijing. Demonstrators overran police barricades on April 9, 2005 to throw bottles at the Japanese embassy in Beijing.
Japan’s Education Ministry will seek to have the new manuals reflected in textbooks for use starting in the 2016 school year, NHK said.