In a bid to end an increasingly nasty diplomatic feud stemming from Japan's revision of textbook accounts of World War II, senior Japanese officials will travel to Peking to explain the changes, a Japanese Cabinet official announced today.
China, which warned today that the future of Sino-Japanese relations depended on resolving the dispute, has demanded that Japan "correct" the offending passages. In South Korea, where the reaction has been equally sharp, the government has rejected a Japanese offer to send a similar mission to Seoul.
The controversy arose when Japan's Ministry of Education recently disclosed changes in new books for the upcoming school term that, among other things, alter descriptions of the Japanese Imperial Army's attacks in China in the 1930s and the treatment of Koreans during Japan's 50 years of colonial rule which ended in 1945.
The changes, ordered in the ministry's yearly review of textbooks, have churned up a storm of indignation among Japan's Asian neighbors, who have charged the Japanese with trying to sweep away the country's aggressive military past. In addition to formal diplomatic protests from China and South Korea, a chain reaction of heated complaints has come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asian countries.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kiichi Miyazawa said today that Hiroshi Hashimoto, head of the Foreign Ministry's Public Information Bureau, and Hitoshi Osaki, Director of the Education Ministry's Science and International Affairs Bureau, would leave Saturday for Peking, to brief Japanese Embassy officials on the details of textbook screening procedures.
Miyazawa said that if arrangements could be worked out, the senior diplomats would meet with Chinese officials to explain Japan's position and to promote understanding of Japan's foreign policy, which he described as seeking to promote friendly relations with all countries. Foreign Ministry sources in Tokyo suggested the Chinese had indicated their willingness to meet with the Japanese envoys.
The sources suggested Peking was anxious to settle the controversy before it damaged relations. Japanese officials privately have expressed concern for Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's scheduled visit to China next month.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshio Sakurauchi announced today that South Korean officials had rejected a Japanese offer to send a team of high-ranking diplomats to Seoul.
The issue, the subject of a heated debate inside Japan for a number of years, began to blossom into a major diplomatic dispute after China's New China News Agency carried a story in June strongly criticizing Japanese school authorities for replacing the word "aggression" with "advance" to describe Japan's attack in China July 7, 1937.
The issue caught fire in Asia--where an estimated 18 million people died in World War II and where the subject of Japan's role in the conflict remains highly sensitive.
In a rare display of support for China's position, the Soviet Union yesterday condemned Japan for tampering with history. The official Communist Party newspaper Pravda said Japan was preparing an ideology to justify military rearmament and the revival of militarism, according to Japanese press reports.