China, South Korea React to Japan’s History Textbook Changes


Japan’s changes in middle school textbooks have been met with disapproval by neighbors South Korea and China, as Seoul and Beijing say the government downplays the actions taken by the Japanese military during wartime and that it makes ungrounded territorial claims.

Eighteen social studies texts for junior high school classes for the next school year say that the disputed Senkaku Islands which are controlled by Japan and disputed by China are inherently Japanese. As Justin McCurry reporting from Tokyo for the Guardian observes, it is the first time that every social studies textbook for junior high schoolers mentions governmental territorial claims.

The junior high school textbooks also say that the Takeshima Islets, known as Dokdo in South Korea, belong to Japan and not South Korea. There are also passages stating there’s no evidence that the Japanese military took comfort women away by force to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, The Asahi Shimbun reports.

In response to these history changes, the South Korea foreign ministry said in a statement:

“The Japanese government once again repeated its provocation over Dokdo on April 6 by approving middle school textbooks that contain unjustifiable claims in stronger terms to Dokdo–unequivocally an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Korea in terms of history, geography and international law–and describe hard historical facts in a way that they are distorted, understated and/or omitted.”

Japan’s action was disapproved by South Korea’s Education ministry, who condemned the results of the textbook screenings and demanded that they be corrected. The statement says: “ Japan is denying its past and avoiding judgments on its history.”

The textbook changes over the territorial claims of Japan over the Takeshima and Senkaku Islands, which are disputed with China and South Korea respectively, are advancing Japan’s agenda according to the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Technology. They are put in place “to counter similar attempts by the South Korean education system,”  Mina Pollman of the Diplomat says.

Several textbooks play down criticism of Japanese military’s involvement in mass suicides during World War II as well.

China’s reaction to the textbook screenings came from Xinhua News, a state-run agency. The Chinese say that due to censorship and pressure from the Japanese government, ‘historical recognition issues receded in some textbooks.“

“In a global society it is necessary for Japanese children to deepen the correct knowledge of their own country, including their own territory, and then interact with people from abroad,” the Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said according to the Wall Street Journal.

Private textbook publishes need to adhere to governmental guidelines, otherwise they risk having their license to sell textbooks revoked, Mina Pollman for the Diplomat says. Pollman explains:

“With a declining fertility rate already shrinking the existing market for textbooks, a decision to go against the government could impose an impossibly heavy toll on the publisher.”

2015 is  the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. According to the Guardian, there’s substantial speculation that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek to make no reference to Japanese acts of aggression as a way of toning down the Japanese atrocities that took place at the time.