(News Focus) S. Korea-China history dispute over ancient kingdoms

A long-running dispute between Seoul and Beijing is being rekindled as China has taken a series of steps apparently aimed at bolstering its historical claim over Korea’s ancient kingdoms, part of whose territories straddled the northern Chinese region of Manchuria.

The latest Chinese moves invited acute public anger in South Korea, as those came in breach of a 2004 agreement under which the two Asian neighbors pledged to make efforts to ease the history row. A state-run Chinese institute recently posted the texts of its research papers, in which it argued that the Balhae Kingdom, which reigned from A.D.698-926, was established by a minority Chinese tribe.

Other papers by the Center of China’s Borderland History and Geography Research also claimed that Korea’s first kingdom of Kojoseon, and another kingdom of Koguryo had its roots in ethnic-Chinese emigrants.

In related news, China will host the 2018 Winter Olympics on the Chinese side of Mount Baekdu, the highest mountain peak on the Korean Peninsula, which analysts say could also strengthen their historical claim to the area.

In addition, a local South Korean newspaper reported that 16 school textbooks distributed in the fall semester contained parts claiming that Balhae was a Chinese kingdom and did not mention Koguryo.

Media reports and analysts say the Chinese moves were seen as promoting regional hegemony and prepare for North Korea’s possible collapse, which could force it to draw a new frontier due to the prospect of a mass influx of refugees.

“China’s hegemonic drive is spawning the distortions of history,” said a major South Korean newspaper, Dong-A Ilbo, in its editorial.

“China is holding security talks with the United States over the future of the Korean Peninsula and has bolstered the level of its frontline troops to prepare for a North Korean collapse.”

The history disputes dates back to 2002 when China launched a five-year academic program to review the history of its northeastern region.

Two years later, the worst-ever wrangling between South Korea and China flared since they normalized diplomatic ties in 1992, as China registered Koguryo relics in its territory with the World Heritage sites and its Foreign Ministry was found to have deleted Koguyro from the Korean history section on its Internet homepage.

Koreans consider Koguryo, which reigned from 37 B.C. to A.D. 668, as a source of national pride, as it had a vast territory expanding far into Manchuria and is the root of the country’s current name “Korea.” As the dispute deepened, the governments of South Korea and China agreed to prevent the matter from developing into a hot-button political issue, and vowed not to intervene in the studies by civilian institutes.

The South Korean government said it will take measures in response to the recent Chinese research papers, after some state-run history institutes complete their examination of the papers.

“The government has resolutely and firmly responded to any issue distorting our history and infringing upon our territorial sovereignty without linking any other issues,” Vice Foreign Minister Lee Kyu-hyung told reporters on Wednesday. “The history issue with China is no exception.”

Critics point out, however, the government’s response has been lukewarm, as China is South Korea’s largest trading partner and still has considerable influence on the reclusive country amid the North Korean nuclear dispute.

On Wednesday, a mass-circulation South Korean newspaper reported that a ranking Foreign Ministry official told a meeting of government officials and scholars in late 2003 that South Korea “should not agitate China,” citing the regional tension over the North’s nuclear issue.

“Such a low-key attitude resulted in today’s situation,” Lee Hyo-jae, an emeritus professor at Seoul National University who participated in the meeting, was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

– Seoul, Sept. 6 (Yonhap News)


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