Japanese textbooks reinflame Dokdo feud

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Japanese textbooks reinflame Dokdo feud


Japanese Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie waits for South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan in Seoul yesterday. [NEWSIS]

Seoul and Tokyo are set for another round in their decades-long territorial dispute over a set of rocky islets in the East Sea after the Japanese government yesterday approved five elementary school social studies textbooks that describe Dokdo as Japanese territory.

Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan summoned Japan’s top envoy to Seoul, Toshinori Shigeie, to file an official complaint over Tokyo’s claim to the islets, known as Takeshima in Japan.

One of the five textbooks approved Tuesday for use in 2010 by Japanese fifth graders says South Korea “illegally occupies” the islets.

In a 15-minute meeting, Yu expressed “deep disappointment,” saying Japan’s approval of the school textbooks could put a serious strain on Korea-Japan relations, according to Jang Won-sam, chief of the Northeast Asian bureau at the Foreign Ministry. Emotions are already running high here because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.

Shigeie said he will thoroughly brief his government about Seoul’s complaint, but said both countries needed to make sure that the issue does not adversely affect overall relations, said Jang.

“Our government strongly protests the passage in Japanese elementary school textbooks that contains Japan’s wrongful claim to Dokdo, which historically, geographically and by international law is our territory, and we urge [Tokyo] to take steps to correct the error,” Kim Young-sun, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

Kim added that Tokyo’s continued claim to the islets could also have a “negative effect” on improving bilateral ties between the two countries.

“The Japanese government has expressed its willingness to develop a future-oriented Korea-Japan partnership while looking history squarely in the face, so our government hopes Tokyo will put such willingness into clear action,” he said.


Previously, only three of the five Japanese textbooks for elementary students described Dokdo as Japanese territory, but now all five contain descriptions or maps that claim Japanese ownership of the islets, said a Foreign Ministry official who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“The Korean government believes the textbook approval was decided under the Japanese government’s guidelines for textbook publishers that were revised in 2008, telling them to specifically state their description of Japanese territory,” the official said.

The official added that Tokyo’s approval of the five textbooks was especially worrisome as they are the only available textbooks for elementary schools in Japan.

That mean more students there would start learning about Japan’s claim over Dokdo early in life.

Out of the 21 social studies textbooks used in Japanese middle schools, only four describe Dokdo as Japanese territory, while 12 out of 112 textbooks for high school students contain similar claims, the official said.

In 2008, Japan described Dokdo as Japanese territory in its revised curriculum guidelines for middle school social studies classes.

By Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]
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