[Letters] Relaunch the joint research committee

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[Letters] Relaunch the joint research committee

In Japan, schools can only use history textbooks approved by the government since the system was introduced in 1948. The government announces the approval result for the history textbooks used in elementary, middle and high schools every four years, and every time the approved history textbooks create tension and discord between Korea and Japan.

Recently, the Japanese government announced the approval of a middle school history textbook and the decade-old problems have emerged once again. The discord between Korea and Japan over the history textbook issue is a serious obstacle to the happy and constructive future for both countries. Seoul and Tokyo must end the unpleasant repetition over historical issues.

Difference in opinions over the history and consequent discords can be overcome by research and dialogue. Of course, historical discussions should be pursued at a civilian level, among researchers, scholars and civil groups. The civilian-level conversation on history is more effective when history education is promoted autonomously, without the intervention of the government. Nevertheless, the effect and method of historical discussion is bound to be determined by the involvement of the government in history education.

The Japanese government has been displaying critical “leadership” in compilation and publication of history textbooks through the approval system. In other words, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology provides content and direction of the historical narratives to the history textbook writers through the educational curriculum guideline. Also, the Textbook Authorization and Research Council is installed as an advisory team to oversee the approval process. Therefore, in order to resolve the history textbook issue, government-level pressure has been needed more than civilian research efforts.

In the past, Korea and Japan have had two official history dialogues at the Korea-Japan Joint History Research Committee meetings. Of course, the two dialogues were not enough to resolve all historical entanglements at once. The Joint Research Committee acts only as a key to the resolution by bringing scholars from both countries work together. Yet, the two countries could share serious conversation to address historical issues, improving understanding of each other’s interests and narrowing the differences.

Continuous and future-oriented dialogues will bring ultimate conciliation and resolution over historical disputes. Many European countries have settled differences through dialogues that lasted several decades. We have only begun the conversation.

Repeated tension over history issues is unfortunate for both countries. A considerable number of Japanese citizens express concern over the history textbook issue out of consideration for friendship between Korea and Japan. Korean citizens and researchers also feel urgency to resolve the issue for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. Without resolving the historical entanglement, there would be no sincere cooperation and coexistence in the region.

Officials in Seoul and Tokyo have a responsibility to respond to the calling to resolve the tension for the present and future of both countries. The suspended joint research committee operation must be resumed as soon as possible and the Japanese government needs to clarify its position on history talks as Tokyo has been the cause for the friction.

Jo Kwang, a professor emeritus of Korean history at Korea University.
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