Sparking ire, Japan plans to rewrite textbooks on disputed islands issue

News & Views - January 29th, 2014

Japan’s government will rewrite history textbooks to take a more nationalistic tone on the territorial dispute over the Senkaku and Takeshima islands also claimed by South Korea and China.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative government has ordered schools and textbook publishers to take a “more strongly nationlist line” on the bitter row in the new curriculum.

Official teaching manuals would be revised to “properly” reflect on Japanese history and echo Japan’s official position on the disputed islands, the education ministry said.

“The problem is that we haven’t been teaching about territory the right way until now,” Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said.

“It is extremely important that children who will bear our future can properly understand our territory.”

Current guidelines do not specify how teachers or textbooks should refer to the territories.

Under the new guidelines, the uninhabited Senkaku islands in the East China Sea and the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan are described as “integral parts of Japan’s territory.”

Teachers are told to refer to Russian-held islands as “illegally occupied” and maintain that no territorial dispute exists with China over the Senkakus.

History lessons would state that Japan integrated the Senkakus and Takeshima as its territory based on reasonable claims in line with international laws.

The move has triggered a backlash from Beijing and Seoul.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese ambassador to lodge a protest. The ministry demanded that the guidelines be retracted and warned of “stern measures” otherwise.

China expressed “grave concerns” over the new guidelines, saying Japan cannot simply change “basic facts.”

“We urge the Japanese side to . . . teach the younger generation with a correct historical perspective,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

Shimomura said he felt it was too bad that there were competing claims to the islands and insisted the islands were inherently part of Japanese territory.

“We must make efforts to politely explain our position to both nations and seek their understanding,” Shimomura said.

In line with this, the government has launched a website which offers comprehensive information about Japan’s territories, stressing its sovereignty over the islands are upheld by international law. An English-language version of the website will soon be launched with the aim of promoting its stance on the dispute to the rest of the world.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image of nationalist protesters: Al Jazeera English/Flickr