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Long history of friction

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Thousands of Chinese protesters take to the streets for a second day. CNN's Tara Duffy reports (April 10)
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(CNN) -- For decades Japan and its closest neighbors have tussled over what lessons should be learnt from World War II.

In recent days, anti-Japanese violence in China has again put the spotlight on what countries such as China and South Korea say is Japan's whitewashing of its wartime activities.

Those two countries, which still carry the scars of Japanese aggression, want to ensure the legacy of the war is respected in Japan's history textbooks.

Japan's leaders have so far apologized to China on no fewer than 17 occasions since the two nations restored diplomatic ties in 1972, according to The Economist Global Agenda.

But ties frayed after Japan recently approved a new edition of a 2001 textbook that critics say downplays the 1937 "Nanjing massacre" in China, ignores the sexual slavery of women for Japanese soldiers, and presents Japanese actions as aimed at liberating other Asian countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has also angered Asian nations by making annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead including its executed war criminals.

Koizumi visited China in 2001, but Beijing has refused to host further visits because of his visits to Yasukuni.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Koizumi in Vientiane in November 2004 on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN get-together, but said at the time that the shrine visits were the "major obstacle" hindering Sino-Japanese ties.

Those ties were further upset in December, when Japan revised its defense guidelines to list China for the first time as a potential threat.

Japanese comments about Taiwan as a regional security concern have also upset China, which insists Taiwan is a domestic issue.

In South Korea, there have been street protests and lawsuits in recent years over the sufferings of Korean "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery during Japan's harsh 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

Another flashpoint is territorial disputes, including economic resource issues involving China, Japan and Vietnam, and the long-standing tussle between South Korea and Japan over a group of islets known as Takeshima in Japan and Tokto in Korea.

This dispute flared up recently, leading to protests in Seoul. South Korea is also upset that a civics textbook approved in early April reiterated Japan's claim to the islands.

Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council has sparked some concern in Asia. Millions of Chinese have already signed an online petition against such a move.

Analysts say domestic political agendas, including a rising sense of nationalism, are behind some of the protests in China and South Korea, and in Japan's demand for an apology for the recent violence.

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