Japan's Education and Science Ministry on Tuesday approved five elementary school textbooks that show Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo as Japanese territory. So far, only three had done so, but the other two added it only recently. That means all elementary schoolchildren will now be taught that Dokdo belongs to Japan.
The Japanese media reported that Tokyo told education officials to clearly educate students that Dokdo is Japanese and ordered the inclusion of a map reflecting the point. Since 2008, the Japanese government started instructing secondary school teachers to stress Japan's territorial claim to Dokdo, and now it is aiming to teach that to elementary schoolchildren as well.
Most educated Japanese people acknowledge that their country's claim to the islets is flimsy at best. Only recently, a Japanese legal decree from 1951 has been discovered that acknowledges that Dokdo does not belong to it. If the Japanese government finds it difficult to formally acknowledge Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo, it should at least try not to exacerbate the problem. Instead, it has taken the provocative step of mis-educating children with bogus maps.
The Korean government comes in for criticism every time the Dokdo issue flares up, and this time is no exception. Most important facts concerning Dokdo have been discovered by private researchers rather than the government. The 1951 decree, the mistaken reference to Dokdo by the CIA World Factbook and the incorrect reference to the islets by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 2008 as "disputed area" were all spotted by private individuals.
The issue requires that the Korean government makes a more concerted effort both visibly and behind the scenes to educate people around the world. Japan has been doing that for a long time. In 1977 it persuaded the U.S. to change the name of the islets on maps to "Liancourt Rocks." Korea established an institute dedicated to the Dokdo issue under the Northeast Asian History Foundation, but it is doubtful how hard it is working on such quiet diplomacy to convince the world that Dokdo belongs to Korea. Some Korean Americans have opposed individual efforts to advertise Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo in major U.S. media or street boards, saying that it would backfire and cause more people to think Dokdo is "disputed" territory. More leadership from the Korean government is urgently needed.