The Chinese government signaled an end to the controversy over revised Japanese history textbooks today after Tokyo pledged more specific measures for correcting any distortion of its World War II atrocities in China.
Vice Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian described as a "step forward" Tokyo's previously unannounced offer Monday to begin a bureaucratic review of the new schoolbooks this month. It was the first positive Chinese statement after weeks of protests over historical revisions that refer to the 1937 Japanese invasion of China as an "advance" and gloss over Japanese brutality in what the Chinese refer to as the "rape of Nanking."
An authoritative commentary scheduled for Friday editions of the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily declares, "The textbook question has now been brought to a temporary close."
According to China's official news agency, Japanese ambassador to China Yasue Katori told Wu that the review panel is expected by the end of this year to recommend restoring earlier textbook accounts describing the Japanese occupation of China as "aggression" and the Nanking incident as a "massacre."
For those textbooks already authorized for use in April, Katori reportedly promised that the Japanese education minister will issue guidelines ensuring that all schools are aware of the corrections.
This latest promise guarantees that "the demand of the Chinese side will be satisfied in practice," Wu was quoted as saying.
While China still considers Tokyo's plans vague, Wu said, Peking appreciates Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's "desire to defend the friendly relations between China and Japan and the determination of the Japanese government to undertake responsibility to correct the matter."
Japanese sources here indicate Wu's comments mark a turning point. The tension that has mounted all summer threatened to spoil Suzuki's plans to visit China starting Sept. 26 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of ties between the country.
China has charged since July that the textbook revisions prettify Japan's bloody occupation from 1937 to 1945 in an effort to support a plot by some Japanese politicians to revive militarism and rekindle aggressive designs over the rest of Asia.
To dramatize its point, Peking canceled the planned visit of Japan's education minister, issued a steady stream of protests and published in the official press grisly photographs of the 1937 "rape of Nanking," in which more than 300,000 Chinese were killed.
China rejected earlier Japanese offers to make "necessary amendments" in its new textbooks, criticizing Tokyo for failing to explain how the changes would be made. Peking further complained that no measures had been proposed to offset revisions in books already approved for use.
Most of Peking's complaints were satisfied by Katori's offer Monday, said Wu. Not only did the ambassador provide more concrete plans for remedying the distortions, but he reiterated Japan's "responsibility for bringing enormous damage in the past to the Chinese people through war," said the Chinese news agency.
Washington Post correspondent Tracy Dahlby added from Tokyo:
Well-placed observers said that the Chinese leadership apparently decided to end the dispute to avoid seriously damaging the mostly friendly relations between the two countries and their lucrative trade and economic ties. It is also believed here that Peking was eager to sweep away the controversy before Suzuki's visit.
According to Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, South Korea today also expressed willingness to accept assurances that textbook accounts of Japan's 35-year colonial rule in Korea would eventually be altered.
Officials said that gaining the understanding of Japan's two key Asian neighbors had been brought about by a series of discussions during the past two weeks with senior officials in Peking and Seoul. The Japanese have pledged to revise textbooks anew for use in the country's schoolrooms starting in 1984.
Meanwhile, Japan's Ministry of Education plans to issue strict guidelines to teachers to allow them to carry out instruction on the basis of more internationally accepted versions of the country's military role in Asia in the 1930s and early 1940s.