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No war in Iraq, say Japanese
Peter Alford, Tokyo correspondent
March 31, 2006 - The Australian
IRAQ is not at war, insist Japan's schoolbook censors.
The publishers of a current affairs text have been instructed by the Education Ministry to remove a suggestion that Japanese troops were sent to southern Iraq in late 2003 while the country was in a state of war.
A ministry official explained yesterday that Japan's official position was the war ended in Iraq when US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein in May 2003.
The amended text is one of 306 approved this week for use in Japanese schools from April next year. Every year, the ministry's textbook approval section ticks and scratches its way through the drafts to ensure compliance with official standards on history, geography, civics, science and foreign languages.
And every year, Japan's neighbours, particularly South Korea and China, take offence at the authorised versions of history and geography taught to Japanese high-schoolers.
There is a serious point to the Iraq revision - Japan's pacifist constitution forbids its troops from engaging in a war zone, even in their non-combatant role in Iraq.
But other official positions imposed on school text publishers are highly controversial.
The ministry has insisted that any reference to South Korea's disputed Dokdo islets describe the uninhabited rocks as Takeshima - a possession of Japan's Shimane prefecture.
And a reference in one text to Japan and South Korea trying to negotiate has been deleted.
The South Koreans, who recovered the Dokdos in 1945 from Japanese annexation, are once again furious.
"I express strong regret and urge Japan not to reiterate such a thing," Seoul's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said yesterday.
Tokyo can expect similar growling from Beijing about the assertion of Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku islands. The Senkakus, known to the Chinese as Diaoyu, are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. A text entry on the islands was ordered changed to reflect "that our country possesses them in accordance with the Government's view".
This year there have been the usual fudgings on "history issues" such as the Nanjing massacre and the Imperial Japanese Army's use of Korean, Chinese and Southeast Asian "comfort women".
The Education Ministry rules that it is all right to record the women were made sexual slaves "for" the soldiers but not that they were forced into that condition "by" the army.
A modern history textbook caption accompanying a photograph of Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi visiting Yasukuni shrine, the controversial Tokyo war memorial, was altered to remove the word "official" from the description.
When campaigning for leadership in early 2001 Mr Koizumi promised he would visit Yasukuni every year and made clear he would go there as Prime Minister, not in the unofficial capacity of his predecessors.
But last year Mr Koizumi attempted to head off heated protests from Beijing and Seoul by insisting he had visited the war shrine as a private individual. Several actions in Japanese courts aimed at stopping the visits have turned on the question of whether they are "official".