China-Korea truce in ancient-kingdom
feud By Seo Hyun-jin
South Korea and China, on the 12th anniversary of their
diplomatic relations, struggled to an uneasy and
probably temporary compromise Tuesday over the ancient
kingdom of Koguryo, claimed by Korea as one of its three
founding kingdoms and apparently by China as a province
of the Middle Kingdom.
China has not made a
specific territorial claim, though some South Korean
officials and academics fear that Beijing is trying to
build a foundation in history for one day claiming
territory that includes much of North Korea. The
Internet homepage of the South Korean Foreign Ministry
was flooded on Tuesday with messages from netizens who
criticized South Korea's agreement with China and said
Seoul is fooled by Beijing's strategy.
Korean officials, in what they described as "a first
step", said China had promised on Tuesday not to make
assertions of sovereignty, not to make historical claims
about the kingdom in its textbooks, and to end any such
claims by the central and provincial governments.
Lingering fundamental differences remain, however, and
Korean officials described the situation as a potential
political tinderbox; they said they would closely watch
China's follow-up steps.
Negotiations took place
in Seoul and there was no immediate public statement by
the Chinese side. No written bilateral statement was
issued spelling out what Seoul diplomats called five
points of understanding about the region.
ancient-kingdom issue has strained bilateral relations
between the two nations, once bitter enemies in the
Korean War when China sided with North Korea.
After nine and a half hours of negotiations that
continued late into Monday night here, Seoul announced
that both sides had reached a five-point "verbal
understanding" in which the two sides agreed to make
joint efforts to prevent the history disputes from
developing into a political issue, South Korean
A South Korean Foreign Ministry
official told Korean media in a briefing that he does
not know whether the Chinese side will explain the
agreement to its media.
Here is an unofficial
translation of the vague five-point verbal agreement,
which makes no mention of sovereignty:
is mindful of the fact that the Koguryo question has
emerged as a significant pending issue between the two
2. The two sides will make efforts to
prevent the history issue from harming the friendship
between the two countries, and to improve the
comprehensive partnership between the two countries as
signed during the establishment of diplomatic ties in
1992 and summit in 1993.
3. Both sides agree to
prevent the history disputes from developing into a
political issue by seeking a fair solution and taking
4. China expresses
understanding about Korea's concerns about descriptions
on Koguryo by central and provincial governments of
China and will take necessary measures to prevent any
complication of the issue.
5. The two sides will
make efforts to open academic exchanges between the
countries and to enhance understanding between citizens
of each country.
Most Korean experts here say
the "understanding" is unsatisfactory because China fell
short of acknowledging that the Koguryo kingdom (37
BC-AD 668) was part of Korea's history and refused to
accept Seoul's demand to restore to the Chinese Foreign
Ministry website the portion on Korean history,
including the ancient kingdom. They urged the Seoul
government to press for more substantial promises from
Beijing that it will not distort the history in the
future, since some fear that China's assertion
potentially makes much of North Korea its historical
territory, and thus could serve as justification for
future Chinese claims on the territory.
Temporary remedy The agreement came
after months of diplomatic rows and negotiations between
the two sides. A senior South Korean diplomatic official
said they did not have enough time to put the agreement
in writing, but said both sides consider it binding.
"It can be regarded that both sides took a first
step on the issue, rather than that it is fully
settled," a senior official at Seoul's Foreign Ministry
said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We will
continue our efforts with vigilance to ensure that this
understanding is honored and is developed further."
The official said the two governments agreed to
interpret the first point of the verbal understanding -
that "China is mindful of the fact that the Koguryo
question has emerged as a significant pending issue
between the two countries" - as meaning that such an
incident will not happen again.
agreement failed to satisfy the South Korean public, or
academics who urge more government pressure on China.
"In fact, it seems that the Chinese government
does not have the will to correct its historical
distortions. So our government must do its best, via all
kinds of routes, including political, cultural and
ministerial," said Choe Kwang-sik, history professor at
Korea University in Seoul. He cited China's failure to
correct its Foreign Ministry website on Korean history
as a major reason for his views.
issue drew wide public attention in April when the
Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted references to Koguryo
from its website on Korean history, which was regarded
in Korea as China's attempt to incorporate the ancient
Korean kingdom into China's history. South Korea
demanded that China restore the portion it had deleted,
but early this month China cut out its entire
description of Korean history before the establishment
of Republic of Korea in 1948.
concerns about bilateral ties Though China's
pledge is widely viewed as a temporary remedy,
diplomatic officials here say China has shown a strong
resolve to put an early end to the dispute.
understand that, at the end of the negotiations, Chinese
officials accepted our demand even as they deviated from
directives from Beijing," another Foreign Ministry
official said. "The Chinese side regarded seriously the
criticism from the South Korean government and public."
Diplomatic experts here said China wanted an
early settlement of the issue that has marred bilateral
relations. They said the relationship now involves
numerous exchanges of all kinds, especially economic,
since the two countries established formal diplomatic
ties a dozen years ago.
Beijing also seemed to
hope to clear away the obstacle before Jia Qinglin,
China's No 4 leader and chairman of the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference, visits Seoul on
In the intensifying uproar against
China from South Korea, China dispatched its new vice
foreign minister, Wu Dawei, to Seoul on Sunday, with the
Beijing government's promise not to distort the Koguryo
history in its textbooks. Wu, a former ambassador to
South Korea, held a series of meetings with officials
here, including Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Vice
Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin and Lee Jong-seok,
deputy chief of the National Security Council.
Remaining concerns Though most South
Koreans believe China wants to patch up the issue to
maintain friendly relations, they doubt whether China
will eventually withdraw what they view as its claim on
"China may not correct the distorted
history about Koguryo because if the Chinese government
approves Koguryo as Korean history, China must give up
its big-scale project to make the nation's minority
races' history as its own," said Professor Jo Beop-jong
at Woosuk University.
The history issue surfaced
in the 1990s when Chinese researchers conducted a
variety of studies aimed at separating the tribal
origins of Koguryo from Korean history. Chinese scholars
emphasized that Koguryo was one of the minorities in
China's northeastern region.
"This is not a
purely historical issue," said Kim Woo-jun, a professor
at Yonsei University's Institute of East-West Affairs in
Seoul. "If Koguryo is incorrectly interpreted by China
as China's old kingdom, the North Korean region becomes
China's historical territory. And this can serve as
justification for future Chinese intervention."
Representative Kim Moon-so of the main
opposition Grand National Party said the Chinese
government's apparent history distortion is evidently
intended to prepare for a territorial dispute after
unification of North and South Korea.
experts said they doubt the Chinese government give up
its historic claim on Koguryo.
"This is not end
of the controversy. The real beginning of war is from
now on," said Professor Kim Hyun-mi of Kyungpook
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