South Korea's PM warns Japan of 'grim judgment' over textbooks that 'distort history'

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo on Thursday warned Japan it would face a "grim judgment" if it failed to address what he called the realities of history.

Mr Lee issued the warning during a specially called press conference following Monday's announcement by Japan's Education Ministry that all 18 new social studies textbooks for use in junior high schools assert Japanese ownership of two separate island groups at the centre of disputes with China and South Korea.

"You can never cover up stark truth. (Japan) will eventually face a grim historical judgement," Mr Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency. "(Japan) must stop distorting history."

The new school books also fail to use the word "massacre" when referring to Japan's mass slaughter of Chinese civilians in Nanjing in 1937, preferring the term "incident".

The textbook dispute surfaces regularly in the row between Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul over events in the first half of the 20th century, when Japan invaded and occupied large tracts of Asia.

But it has come at a particularly sensitive time as the region prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and with a rising tide of nationalism in all three countries.

Immediately after Monday's announcement on the textbooks, the South Korean Foreign Ministry summoned Japanese ambassador Koro Bessho to protest.

The territorial dispute between Seoul and Tokyo concerns the South Korean-controlled Dokdo islets in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which are known as Takeshima in Japan and have been the focus of a decades-old sovereignty row.