[Editorial] Contest over kingdom
The World Heritage Committee has recognized the
"outstanding universal value" of the historical monuments of the Goguryeo
dynasty located in both North Korea and China. The U.N. body decided to place
simultaneously on the World Heritage List the remains of the capital cities,
mountain fortresses and tombs of the nobility of the ancient Korean state which
straddled the current territories of the two nations, effectively closing the
first round of a tense war of nerves between the two neighbors.
The Solomonic judgment by the UNESCO committee, handed down at its annual
conference in Suzhou in southern China last week, signals an arduous battle
ahead for historians as well as governments in both South and North Korea. The
seemingly fair decision will offer strategic privileges to China in its
unjustified endeavor to claim an ancient Korean kingdom. It could even end up
emboldening the potential territorial ambitions of the emerging regional power
in the future.
China came from behind in bidding for the status of the World Heritage sites
for Goguryeo monuments, including the ruins of its early capital cities,
fortresses and mural tombs, scattered around its northeastern provinces. North
Korea submitted its proposal for a group of 63 tombs in its own territory, 16 of
them decorated with celebrated mural paintings, back in 2001. But the Paris
conference of the World Heritage Committee turned it down last year because of
the poor condition of preservation of the subterranean burial chambers.
The Chinese government undertook massive excavation and refurbishing projects
on Goguryeo ruins in southern Manchuria in recent years. Together with its
so-called "Northeast Asia Project" for studying the history of present-day
Manchuria, which was the territory of the ancient warrior state through much of
its existence from 37 B.C.-A.D. 668 and which still has large ethnic Korean
communities, China`s hurried preparations unnerved South Korean academics and
civil society, as well as the government agencies involved.
The South Korean government supported the North`s bid to earn the official
recognition of the international society for its priceless historical monuments,
the first such effort by the communist state. Seoul has been providing Pyongyang
with $100,000 a year in aid for the conservation of Goguryeo tombs through
UNESCO since 2000. Japanese UNESCO goodwill ambassador Ikuo Hirayama, who led
the crusade for the Goguryeo tombs, inspired South Korean officials to help the
North in conserving them.
Setting aside emotional criticisms of China`s politically motivated claim on
a vital portion of early Korean history, the South and North must join hands to
place on the World Heritage List more of their wealthy troves of cultural assets
from the Goguryeo period. These efforts will be crucial if they are to convince
the world community that it was one of Korea`s three ancient kingdoms which
formed the foundation of the national identity of the Korean people as they are
Academics and the authorities in both Koreas will find a lot to do together.
Among the most immediate tasks is putting together the results of research by
both sides to compile publications in Korean, as well as in English. Considering
that a lack of quality publications in English is among the greatest hurdles in
this historical campaign, good translation of well-written documents is more
urgently needed than anything else.
The Goguryeo Research Foundation, launched earlier this year in Seoul, will
have to organize international academic conferences to provide scholars from
around the world with opportunities to become familiar with the regional history
of northeast Asia. The two Koreas, China and Japan should coordinate more
closely with one another in order to bring their past to clear light and remove
any unnecessary conflict for the sake of regional peace and harmony.
(Korea Herald 2004-7-5)