Japan, China to launch history talks next week

Updated: 2006-12-18 17:07

Japan has said it will hold its first joint history study with China next week and called for both sides to be open-minded so they can improve ties strained over the past.

A 10-member Japanese team will hold its first meeting with its Chinese counterparts on December 26-27 in Beijing, Japan's chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki announced.

The joint history project gained momentum in October when Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went to Beijing and spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao about how to ease friction.

"The current gap in historical interpretations between Japan and China remains too large," said Shinichi Kitaoka, a Tokyo University professor who was appointed chairman of the Japanese side.

"Our first interest is to try to narrow it by sorting things out and pursuing an academic discussion," he told a news conference.

Ties between the Asian powers have been frayed over Japan's 1931-1945 wartime occupation, with China harboring deep bitterness over Japanese atrocities.

Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi inflamed tensions with his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo, which honors 2.5 million war dead including 14 top war criminals.

Kitaoka said the two sides would discuss in Beijing what subjects to study but that he wanted the research to look "widely" at history.

"I don't think focusing on only the bad aspects of history is a correct way of understanding history," he said.

Kitaoka also said the Japanese side did "not want to force a single interpretation" and had experts in both ancient and contemporary history.

The two countries have clashed over textbooks, with China upset by Japanese books that make little mention of atrocities such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre.

China says some 300,000 civilians were killed when Japanese troops embarked on an orgy of destruction in the eastern Chinese city. Allied trials of Japanese war criminals documented 140,000 victims.

Amid the drive to repair relations, the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers agreed last month to set a 2008 target for publication of the joint study.

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