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Japan textbooks strengthen claim over Dokdo

Japan strengthened its claims over South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo in its revised textbooks Wednesday, provoking Seoul to take a set of countermeasures feared to weaken ties between the two neighboring states.

Tokyo has for years laid territorial claims over the South Korean islets and glorified its wartime past in textbooks for young students, often providing a stumbling block to mending ties with Korea, which was victim to its 1910-45 colonial rule.

The Japanese government authorized 18 of the 23 history, geography and ethics middle school textbooks it has been reviewing for a year, 12 of them claiming Dokdo belongs to the country and four stating South Korea is “illegally occupying” its territory.

The announcement comes at a sensitive time for Koreans, who have been making efforts to help out the neighboring country as it is struggling to cope with the aftermath of a powerful earthquake and ensuing Tsunami that took the lives of thousands of people.

Calling in Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto to lodge an official complaint, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan “expressed deep regrets and strongly condemned” Japan’s claim over Dokdo, the Foreign Ministry said.

During the meeting, Kim said the Tokyo government has “reminded Koreans of their hurtful past” by making territorial claims over Dokdo, which they were deprived of during Japan’s colonial rule.

“Educating young Japanese with such distorted historical views will not only hurt bilateral ties with South Korea, but will also negatively affect Japan’s own future,” the minister was quoted as saying during the 12 minute-meeting.

Muto replied he will “accurately deliver” Seoul’s position to his government, adding Tokyo remains grateful about South Korea’s relief aid and its principle not to link the two issues.

Seoul’s ambassador also made a protest visit to Japan’s foreign ministry and met with its chief, according to Seoul officials.

The Foreign Ministry also released an official statement over the issue, demanding Tokyo “immediately correct” its claim.
The covers of history, geography and ethics middle school textbooks of Japanese. (Yonhap News)
The covers of history, geography and ethics middle school textbooks of Japanese. (Yonhap News)

Criticizing Japan for “rationalizing and glorifying distorted historical views” in its textbooks, the ministry urged the country to “take to action” its pledge to forge futuristic ties with Seoul, according to the statement released by spokesman Cho Byung-jae.

While taking stern measures against Japan’s renewed claim, South Korea will not abandon its so-called “quiet diplomacy” policy toward Tokyo’s attempt to make Dokdo look like a disputed region to the international community, a Seoul official said on the condition of anonymity.

The issue will be “dealt with quitely, but wisely and firmly,” he said.

Dokdo, dubbed Takeshima by the Japanese, are a group of small islets that lies in rich fishing grounds in the East Sea which could also contain large gas deposits.

Dismissing Tokyo’s claim as nonsense, South Korea has had Coast Guard officers stationed in Dokdo since 1954. Two citizens ― a fisherman and his wife ― live on the islets.

The 18 textbooks which have passed the Tokyo government’s review are expected to be used at schools from April next year after its education committee officially approves their use in July, according to the Foreign Ministry here.

Japan, which laid similar claims over Dokdo while reviewing its elementary school books in March last year, will announce its diplomatic and defense papers in April and July this year, respectively, upping conflicts with Seoul.

A meeting of related ministries was held immediately after Japan’s announcement, during which officials discussed measures to strengthen the country’s hold on the islets.

Among them, South Korea plans to start repairing an aging heliport and also building exhibition centers on Dokdo, and work with activists not only in Korea but also Japan, to promote its sovereignty of Dokdo, an official at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.

The Education Ministry said it will hold an exhibition of photographs and video clips related to Dokdo and support civic groups’ calls for the Japanese education committee not to select these “rightist textbooks” as official education materials.

It will also send a letter of protest to Japan demanding correction of the wrong descriptions of Dokdo in the reviewed textbooks and distribute education materials to elementary schools to teach students about Korea’s rightful sovereignty over the islets, the ministry said in a press release.

The Construction Ministry said it will speed up its plan to build a breakwater and an ocean research station on the islets.

The government said it will not link the textbook issue with its ongoing relief aid and shipped 500 tons of drinking water and pre-cooked rice to the country Wednesday.

It was the third shipment Seoul made to help the neighboring country overcome the massive quake that hit Japan on March 11. South Korea was also the first country to send a rescue team to Tokyo.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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