Japanese foreign minister regretful over textbook

SEOUL, South Korea, AP

Japan’s Foreign Minister Yohei Kono on Monday expressed regret over a public furor in South Korea touched off by a Japanese textbook that critics say whitewashes its wartime atrocities.

“I am fully aware of the strong atmosphere in South Korea and feel heavy in my heart about causing you such uneasiness,” Kono said in a letter to his South Korean counterpart, Han Seung-soo.

Han received the letter from Otohiko Endo, head of the foreign relations committee in the New Komei Party, a member of Japan’s ruling coalition. Endo and three other New Komei Party legislators were on a routine visit to South Korea.

“While facing up to the past, we will work together with South Koreans to establish a future-oriented relationship,” a Foreign Ministry official quoted the Japanese foreign minister’s letter as saying.

The official, who declined to be named, did not disclose further contents of the letter.

The official said, however, that it was unclear whether the letter meant that Japan intends to try to revise the middle-school history textbook, written by nationalist scholars that defend Japan’s wartime record.

Seoul is asking Japan to rewrite the textbook but Japan has refused.

Earlier Monday, about 300 retail vendors marched in downtown Seoul to protest Tokyo’s approval of the middle school history textbook.

Shouting “Retract the textbook!” they handed out leaflets urging people not to buy goods from Japan, South Korea’s second largest trade partner. Trade between South Korea and Japan reached over US$50 billion last year.

The textbook controversy has rekindled anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea, where Japanese colonial rule from 1910 until the end of the World War II in 1945 remains a bitter memory.

Mainland China and other Asian nations also berated the Japanese government for giving its approval to the textbook.

Last Tuesday, South Korea recalled its ambassador to Japan, Choi Sang-ryong, to show its strong disapproval of the Japanese textbook.

South Korean officials said the ambassador’s return to Tokyo may be delayed until this weekend. They earlier had expected the envoy to return to Tokyo in a few days.

South Korea is asking Japan to resolve the textbook dispute early to prevent it from damaging preparations for 2002 World Cup soccer tournament, which they will co-host.