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(LEAD) S. Korea raps Japan's new education handbook on Dokdo

All Headlines 15:09 December 25, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with official's briefing, other details; CHANGES headline)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Dec. 25 (Yonhap) -- Seoul expressed regret Friday over Japan's renewed campaign to teach students about its controversial claim to sovereignty over Dokdo, islets that are effectively controlled by South Korea, but refrained from taking follow-up diplomatic actions.

"Whatever claim the Japanese government makes, our (South Korean) government stresses the position once again that no territorial dispute exists between the two sides," Moon Tae-young, a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement read in front of a television camera.

The statement came in response to Japan's education handbook released earlier in the day that calls for high school teachers to say in classrooms that Japan is locked in a territorial row with neighboring South Korea over Dokdo.

Dokdo, which lies in the East Sea that is rich in fish and hydrate gas, traditionally belongs to Korea, but Japan has laid claim to it since its brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, often causing diplomatic spats with Seoul despite ever-growing cultural and economic relations.

"The revision of the educational guidelines for high school textbooks injects a wrong perception about territory into Japan's future generation," Moon said, adding that Japan's move is regrettable, as it may negatively influence the development of future-oriented relations between the two neighbors.

South Korean officials said Japan's position on Dokdo remains unchanged in principle, but took note of the fact that Japan's Education Ministry did not directly mention Dokdo in the new educational document.

The manual to be used at high schools nationwide for a decade says that teachers "need to deepen the understanding (of students) on territorial issue by providing accurate information based on the Japanese government's proper claim and their study at junior high school."

The education handbook for junior high schools, published last year, states students should learn that disputes between Japan and South Korea over Dokdo are similar to those between Japan and Russia over the Northern Territories. It describes them as "Japan's own territory, but they are currently occupied illegally by Russia. It also reads "Japan's demand for their return needed to be taught correctly."

At that time, South Korea strongly protested against Japan's publication of the handbook that could affect textbook publishers, even recalling its Ambassador to Japan Kwon Chul-hyun.

Another foreign ministry official said in a background briefing for reporters that the Japanese government led by Yukio Hatoyama seemed to have taken into account its relations with South Korea in dropping the explicit description.

Hatoyama has been in an apparent dilemma, as he seeks to improve relations with Asian neighbors under his "fraternity" campaign while struggling to win support from conservatives ahead of key parliamentary elections next July.

When asked if the government will call in Japanese Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie to deliver a protest message, the official said, "Today is the Christmas holiday. So, we are thinking about various measures in consideration of it and other situations." The Japanese Embassy in Seoul was not open. Christmas Day is a national holiday in South Korea, but a working day in Japan.

But the ministry was widely expected to summon the Japanese envoy within a few days, a routine step to counter Japan's repeated historical distortions and territorial claims. Few expect Seoul to recall its ambassador to Tokyo this time.

The Dokdo issue is not only a diplomatic issue, but also a sensitive political topic here, as anti-Japanese sentiment lingers among many South Koreans due to Japan's colonial rule. They argue Japan has yet to offer an apology for its atrocities during the period.

South Koreans are already upset about Japan's latest decision to pay only 99 yen (US$1.08) in a welfare pension refund to each of seven South Korean women who were forced laborers during the colonial era.

Tokyo recently sent the funds to each of the seven women, who filed a suit against the Japanese government in 1998 to claim the surrender value of a welfare pension fund that they paid into while working at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries between October 1944 and August 1945, according to Japanese media reports earlier this week.

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