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Japan's textbook risky move on islands

By Pang Zhongpeng | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-20 07:47

Japan's textbook risky move on islands

File photo of a Chinese frigate.

China urged Japan last week to respect facts and instill in Japanese children the correct knowledge of history. The exhortation came in response to Japan's new draft guideline for school curriculum, which was released last Tuesday, for the first time requires elementary and junior high schools to teach students that China's Diaoyu Islands, and other islands that Japan has disputes with the Republic of Korea, are "inherent" Japanese territory. The ROK too has formally protested these claims by Japan.

This is not the first time that the content of Japan's government-censored textbooks have caused controversy and enraged China, the ROK and other Asian countries. Three years ago similar documents were issued by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, instructing teachers to "prepare" their classes for doctored history.

Earlier, the decision to adopt a government-approved textbook or not was made by local school boards, and in some cases citizens also had a say in that decision. The controversial textbooks recommended by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, also known as Tsukurukai, in 2005 were given a cold shoulder by the schools and other organizations, and eventually had to be disowned by the publisher.

But the latest draft is legally binding and, reportedly, will be implemented for elementary and junior high schools from fiscal 2020 and 2021, respectively. The new education guideline came just four days after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with US President Donald Trump in Washington. At their meeting, the two leaders affirmed the bilateral defense treaty that included talks on the Diaoyu Islands, and the US' commitment to further strengthen the "very crucial alliance".

It is thus not difficult to establish a connection between Washington's endorsement and Tokyo's release of the new education guideline, which urges teachers to assert Japan's sovereignty over the disputed islands so that Japan's younger generation does not think otherwise.

The Abe administration's gimmick could backfire in the long run as it risks undermining the hard-won China-Japan relationship. This year marks the 45th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties between China and Japan, which are based on shared respect for the importance of bilateral relations.

Beijing-Tokyo ties suffered a major blow after Japan sought to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands in 2012 in total disregard to four political documents signed by the two neighbors. It's time, therefore, that Tokyo learned a lesson from the souring bilateral ties, and realized that extra discretion is needed when it comes to its sensitive territorial dispute with Beijing, and stopped playing with fire.

Rejecting China's irrefutable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands will cost Japan dear, because China stands firm on its territorial claims and is determined to fight for them, if need be.

As President Xi Jinping said at his meeting with Abe on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province, last September, China-Japan ties have reached a point where there is no room for further deterioration. So, to put bilateral ties back on the right track, Japan should avoid complicating matters further. Trying China's patience over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, over which the textbook guideline says there is "no dispute", signals a dangerous move of Japan.

The author is an associate researcher at the Japan Studies Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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