updated 4/6/2005 8:17:31 AM ET 2005-04-06T12:17:31

Fueling an international dispute over wartime history, Japan’s government approved a new public school textbook Tuesday that China and South Korea immediately denounced as “poison” for whitewashing Japan’s World War II atrocities.

The junior high school book, titled “New History Textbook,” was among 103 textbooks approved by the Education Ministry for use beginning April 2006.

The book was originally approved in 2001, but critics hoped the ministry would reject the newest edition. The ministry regularly screens public school textbooks, but school districts are free to choose among approved works.

The history book immediately was assailed by critics in Japan, China and South Korea, who accused the authors of glossing over such crimes as the forced wartime prostitution of thousands of Asian women by the Japanese military, justifying Tokyo’s military expansion and using wartime propaganda terminology, such as calling World War II the “Great Asia War.”

Deep resentments resurface
“The Republic of Korea expresses regret over the fact that some of the 2006 Japanese middle school textbooks ... still contain content that justifies and glorifies wrongs committed in the past,” the South Korean Embassy in Japan said in a statement.

Japan colonized South Korea from 1910 until 1945, and many Koreans still harbor deep resentment against Tokyo.

China’s Foreign Ministry called the book “a poison for Japan’s younger generations” and summoned Japan’s ambassador to Beijing, Koreshige Anami, to voice disapproval. A Chinese trade group representing chain stores called on its members to stop selling Japanese products in protest.

“The Chinese government expresses indignation toward the Japanese government for approving the revised textbook in spite of China’s strong representations on many occasions,” ministry official Qiao Zonghuai said in a statement.

“The nature of the textbook issue is whether Japan can correctly face its history of imperialist invasion and educate the next generation with a correct sense of history,” it said, adding that the book “tries to exonerate the Japanese imperialists from the crimes they committed, beautifies ... and openly supports the invasion.”

Koizumi explains
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for calm, but he did not criticize the book.

“South Korea’s standpoint and Japan’s are different,” he said. “While noting that difference, it’s not good to have the confrontation escalate. It’s important for both countries promote friendly relations by keeping their emotions in check.”

Disagreement also focused on a second book on ethics, by the same conservative publisher, Fusosha, which irked South Korea by boldly staking Japan’s claim to a group of disputed islands in the Sea of Japan, known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean.

National broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News agency reported the strong language was inserted at the request of the Education Ministry. Japan and South Korea currently are at odds over the islands, which are controlled by Seoul.

Pros and cons
The Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, which supports more open discussion of Japanese wartime atrocities, said the history book “distorts history, glorifies war, seeks a war waging country and steps into ... isolation in (the) international community.”

But the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a strong backer of the nationalist scholars, defended the work and urged authorities to resist attempts from inside Japan or abroad to stifle the book.

“We urge the government and the Education Ministry not to surrender to political interference by South Korea and terror threats from inside and outside the country,” the group said.

The national scholar group said Tuesday the book was written to inspire children to develop national pride and to feel “natural love” toward their ancestors, rather than look on them as war criminals.

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