China ministry takes unclear step as Korea steps up history protest

South Korea sent a top ranking official to Beijing yesterday to sort out a dispute over the sovereignty of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo even as China added a new twist by deleting a section of Korean history prior to 1948 on its Foreign Ministry Web site.

Beijing`s latest move only became known around noon yesterday as visiting Chinese journalists and South Korean counterparts met at a luncheon at Seoul`s Foreign Ministry.

It was seen by many as a way for the Chinese government to avoid future disputes with Korea but the deletion puzzled officials here as to whether Beijing`s intention is to avoid an overall conflict with Korea while sticking by its claim over the ancient kingdom.

Seeking to counter the heightening tensions, Park Joon-woo, director general of Asia-Pacific Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, set out on a three-day Beijing trip to "set the record straight.".

His aim is to present Seoul`s objection to China`s claim of Goguryeo and demand a revision to their historic records of the kingdom, which both countries claim.

"During the trip, Director-general Park will meet with high-ranking Chinese officials to deal with the distortion of Goguryeo and firmly demand an immediate revision," an official at the ministry said.

"We have expectations that Beijing will take a turnaround approach on their position, considering the future of the Korea-China alliance." Park`s trip, initially scheduled as a general tour of China after he took over as director-general last month, is expected to focus on the diplomatic conflict between the two Asian neighbors since he will be dealing with his Chinese counterparts on the thorny and emotional historical issues.

The latest row surrounding the Goguryeo Kingdom, which reigned from northern Korea to northeastern China 37 B.C. to 668 A.D., erupted after the Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted the description of the kingdom from the introduction of Korean history on its Web site.

That deletion angered Koreans as it was viewed as a move by China to treat the ancient kingdom as its local government. Seoul`s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly demanded China reinstate the description.

The introduction of Korean history on the Web site before the deletion in April, described ancient Korea as being made up of three kingdoms: Silla, Baekje and Goguryeo.

Park`s trip is expected to shed some positive light to the issue, as China has expressed its understanding of Korea`s serious stance, an official said.

The official also said the "history of ancient Goguryeo represents the roots and identity of Koreans, and (it) cannot be left for China or any other country to distort that historic fact." "The government is adamant on the change and will not be indifferent to any wrongly stated historic fact that Goguryeo is not an ancient sovereignty of Korea."

By Choi Soung-ah

(Korea Herald 2004-8-6)