A historic textbook

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A historic textbook

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada presented a plan to produce a history textbook written with the input of historians from Korea, China and Japan. The thinking is that crafting a joint history book could help resolve deep-rooted conflicts among the three countries. We sympathize with him and believe that it is necessary to publish joint history textbooks as a part of a concerted effort to help the three nations move past these issues and work together to create a new future-oriented form of cooperation. In such context, we welcome and support Okada’s proposal.

Comparatively little joint research in the realm of history has been undertaken by Japan and its neighboring countries so far. Japan, which has faced harsh criticism over its history-related distortions, has carried out joint research projects with Korea and China. However, these projects have moved at a snail’s pace, and the results were underwhelming. The Korea-Japan Joint History Research Committee, launched in 2002, has never triggered an insightful discussion on thorny issues in earnest and failed to yield any tangible results. Against this backdrop, the production of a shared history textbook sounds like a pie-in-the-sky idea. However, things will be different this time around. The Japanese government - led by new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who prioritizes ties with Asian neighbors to the degree that he chose Korea as his first place to visit - is taking a more forward-leaning attitude toward northeast Asian history. In this sense, Okada’s remarks are gaining momentum.

The governments, political communities and university institutions of the three nations should take part in an in-depth discussion to make Okada’s proposal a reality. Other countries have created shared history textbooks in the past, using them as a catalyst to resolve conflicts. Germany and France, for instance, have been using high school history textbooks jointly published by scholars from both countries since 2006. Last year, Germany and Poland produced and distributed a joint history textbook on a trial basis for elementary school students.

There is no need to hurry to publish the shared history textbook for Korea, China, and Japan. A careful approach is required, and such a venture should be undertaken with a long-term perspective. The Franco-German joint history textbook was 10 years in the making and faced numerous hurdles. If we incite conservative forces in Japan or provoke a controversy, we should bear in mind that there is a high possibility that our discussions will go back to square one. We must ensure that this does not end in a stalemate. We expect that the shared history textbook will take a concrete shape soon.
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