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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Row revives memories of bitter past
A former 'comfort woman' demonstrates outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul
The textbooks fail to mention "comfort women"
By Caroline Gluck in Seoul

The school textbook row is threatening to undermine much of the progress made by South Korea and Japan in improving bilateral ties.

Little more than two years after Japan apologised for inflicting suffering on the Korean peninsula during its colonial rule, the two countries are once again poles apart on how they interpret their turbulent past.


Anti-Japanese feeling is also showing signs of life among the younger generation

The row is reviving anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea, as many older Koreans still harbour bitter memories of life under Japanese occupation.

It was a time when Koreans were banned from using their own language in schools, forced to adopt Japanese names, and pledge allegiance to the Japanese emperor.

Tens of thousands of Koreans served as conscripts in Japan during World War II.

And most of the estimated 200,000 Asian women forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military were Korean.

Public enemy

For decades, the South Korean Government maintained bans on Japanese cultural imports - ranging from films to pop music.

South Koreans protesters burn a Japanese flag
South Koreans say Japanese books gloss over the war
But soon after taking office in 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung took steps to improve ties with Tokyo.

He has worked hard to establish a "forward-looking" relationship with Tokyo - visiting the capital twice.

After Japan apologised for inflicting great suffering on the Korean peninsula during Japanese rule, Seoul responded by announcing it would ease restrictions on imports of Japanese cultural products.

Football diplomacy

But anti-Japanese feeling is not only prevalent among the older generation, who have first-hand memories of life under Japanese rule; it is also showing signs of life among the younger generation.

Despite the popularity of Japanese films, pop music and animation, a survey in a local children's newspaper - conducted soon after the controversial history books were approved by the Japanese education ministry - showed that more than 68% of respondents felt that Japan was the most hostile country to South Korea.

Protesters hold an anti-Japan rally in Seoul
For years, South Korea maintained bans on Japanese cultural imports
Primary school students even marched through the capital as part of protests against the books.

The controversial decision by football's world governing body, Fifa, to award the 2002 World Cup football games jointly to South Korea and Japan was seen as an attempt to help promote closer ties between the two countries.

While the organising committees from both countries say there has been good co-operation, that was clouded by an early row when Japan put its name first in promotional material for the sporting event in violation of an earlier agreement.

Trading partners

Rows apart, the two countries do share a lot in common.

Both have vested interests in engaging communist North Korea and diffusing military threats to the region.

The two are important trading partners and millions visit each other's countries every year.

The World Cup could help to further strengthen ties between the two nations.

But unless reined in, nationalist sentiments on both sides could damage the promising start in improving ties.

Tokyo has urged its Asian neighbours to concentrate on the positive, rather than points of dispute.

But Seoul says there can be no forward-looking relationship unless there is an honest acknowledgement of what has happened in the past.

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See also:

09 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan history row intensifies
04 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan stands firm on history book
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