On Tuesday, South Korea condemned Japan for approving school textbooks that claimed that the island of Dokdo was Japan’s. Tensions over the island were already high as the two countries argued over it for many years.
Dokdo, sometimes called the Liancourt Rocks or Takeshima is a group of small, rocky islands located in the Sea of Japan. The countries fight over control due to both countries having historical records of the islands. For Americans, you could somewhat think of it as a significantly more intense debate between New York and New Jersey over the Statue of Liberty.
Under Japan’s Education Ministry, a textbook screening committee approved 296 textbooks for first-year high school students (about age 15-16), including 30 kinds for social studies subjects, such as history and geography. All of the 30 textbooks contain details about Dokdo, whereas 5 years ago, many of the approved books did not have the claims.
We strongly protest that the Japanese government passed the screening of textbooks that have not stated the facts as they are in accordance with its own historical perspective. We urge that a correction be made immediately. In particular, we cannot help but disapprove and condemn the approval of the textbooks carrying ungrounded claims to Dokdo, which is clearly our indigenous territory historically, geographically and by international law.
—South Korea’s Education Ministry Spokesperson Choi Young Sam
The South Korean government added to their request by urging Japan to “accurately recognize” issues related to victims of sexual enslavement by the Japanese, also called “Comfort Women.” They wish for Japan to teach its children with responsibility, apology, and self-reflection.
The foreign ministry called in a senior Japanese Embassy official to protest. Lee Sang Ryol, the director-general for Asian and Pacific affairs, expressed regrets to Hirohisa Soma, the deputy head of the mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The revised texts are considered to have reinforced Japan’s claims of owning Dokdo and stating that South Korea illegally occupies it. Textbook publishers are required to reflect the government’s teaching guidelines in the content to get approval for publication. Japan’s renewed claims also revived memories of what Japan did to South Korea in the past.
South Korea has been in control of Dokdo, with a small police force, since its liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. However, Tokyo, Japan, has consistently claimed Dokdo as theirs in policy papers, public statements, and school textbooks.