China and Japan agree to joint history study

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The Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers today agreed to a joint study on the nations' different interpretations of history - particularly the second world war - that have bedevilled bilateral relations.

A Japanese official said Taro Aso and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, had taken the decision at a meeting in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

The two countries will each set up a team of 10 historians to study ancient, wartime and modern history, with the results due in 2008.

History textbooks used in Japan have been a regular source of friction between Tokyo and neighbouring China and South Korea.

Last year, both Beijing and Seoul made diplomatic protests when the Japanese government approved a new edition of a previously criticised history textbook.

The book was condemned for glossing over atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Asia and leaving out the story of women being sexually enslaved by members of the imperial army during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Japanese government's decision to approve the new edition triggered anti-Japanese demonstrations in both China and South Korea.

Japan said the text did not represent the government's official view, and the book has been widely shunned. Published by the rightwing company Fusosha, it is used in less than 1% of Japanese schools.

China takes particular exception to the book's description of the 1937-38 Nanjing massacre - when Japanese troops killed an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people - as an "incident".

The book also says Japan's actions during the second world war were motivated by "self-preservation" and a desire to liberate Asia from western control.

Even as China and Japan were seeking to take the sting out of the controversy, Japan's lower house of parliament today passed a contentious bill encouraging teachers to instil patriotism and respect for tradition in their students.

The legislation - which will now go to the upper house - would change the country's education law for the first time since it was enacted in 1947. It calls for "an attitude that respects tradition and culture and love of the national homeland that has fostered them".

Shinzo Abe, the new and hawkish Japanese prime minister, said a revision of the education law would promote patriotism and discipline in schools.

Conservative MPs argue that the current education law has put too much emphasis on respect for individuality and development of individual personality, allowing students and teachers to indulge in too much freedom at schools.

Opponents fear the move could stoke a resurgence of nationalism. They point to Japan's past, when military leaders used patriotism to justify the expansionism that helped bring on the second world war.

Read entire article at Guardian (UK)

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