Japan revises teaching materials on territorial claims

According to the Japanese government, students will be learning more about Japan's territorial rights to islands that China and South Korea also claim to own. The decision was made to revise teaching materials to reflect the government's official view on territorial claims.

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura said, "Naturally we must teach our own territory accurately to our children." This announcement drew an angry reaction from Beijing and Seoul.

The education ministry also adopted a textbook screening policy that requires writers to reflect the official government position on modern history issues. These will "balance out" references to Japan's wartime aggression like forcing the use of sex slaves for Japanese troops, and the Nanking massacre in which Japanese forces killed 300,000 Chinese citizens.

Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, asked Tokyo to "stop provocations" and urged them to improve relations while reiterating the country's claim to the islands.

South Korea's foreign ministry demanded withdrawal of the changes, saying:

"You must not teach false history to the young generation and plant enmity and seeds of conflict with its neighbors."

The policy change will affect future textbooks and will be screened by the government. The current revisions will affect ministry-issued teaching manuals for social studies classes in junior high and high school. Ministry officials said the current manuals did not mention the Japanese-claimed East China Sea Islands that China also claims. They also deemed the reference to Japanese-claimed islands in the Japan Sea that are held by South Korea too soft.

With the revisions, teachers are asked to mention that the islands are "integral territories of Japan." The islands are flashpoints in Japan's diplomatic relations with China and South Korea. The East China Sea islands are called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, while those in the Sea of Japan are called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

What does all this mean? According to a Chinese official at the 2014 World Economic Forum, it could mean conflict is imminent. The official explained that China and Japan never really settled their World War II conflict. Fighting stopped because Japan and America settled their conflict.

The Chinese professional mentioned the islands in the context of the recent visit by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto shrine where Japanese killed in Japan's many military conflicts over the centuries are memorialized — including the Japanese leaders responsible for the attacks and atrocities Japan perpetrated in World War 2. A modern-day Japanese leader visiting the Yasukuni Shrine is highly controversial, because it is viewed by Japan's former (and current) enemies as an act of honoring war criminals.

He acknowledged that if China attacked Japan and asserted control over the islands, America would have to stand with Japan, and China does not want to provoke America.

The Cabinet secretariat in Japan has set up a website that is designed to increase domestic awareness for the territorial claims brought by Abe's government.

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