[Editorials] History war with China

Koreans know better than most other nations how so-called academic research into the history of a neighbor can develop into a bitter political conflict. Japanese historians of the Meiji period distorted part of ancient Korean history in order to assert that their ancestors had conquered a section of the Korean Peninsula back in the fourth century and ran a military outpost there named Mimana. That preposterous "scholarly" endeavor was used to justify imperial Japan`s colonization of Korea decades later.

It is little wonder, therefore, that many Koreans are now haunted by the specter of such humiliating experiences from the past century. China insists that its state-funded project for "historical, geographical and ethnic" research in its northeastern provinces, which have large autonomous communities of Korean Chinese, is purely for academic purposes. Certain officials of China`s Communist Party and foreign ministry had the nerve to reproach Korean diplomats and news media for politicizing the issue. Their brazen attitudes worry us.

For the South Korean government, the challenge comes at an extremely delicate time. Although only 12 years have passed since the two nations established diplomatic relations, Korea is now witnessing the tide changing in favor of China as the latter is emerging as a regional superpower with a burgeoning economy. Seoul`s perennial confrontation with the communist North continues to shackle South Korea`s foreign policy. The nuclear dispute with the North has further constrained our diplomats because China is playing a role to help broker a multi-party dialogue on the issue.

Against this backdrop, resolving the history issue looms as a daunting task, particularly since the government of President Roh Moo-hyun and his Uri Party are widely seen as pro-Chinese. The Roh administration apparently can no longer continue the "quiet diplomacy" with China it inherited from the previous administration of Kim Dae-jung, who was extraordinarily soft-spoken about China`s policy toward North Korean defectors fleeing into its territory. To be sure, there is little to be gained from responding hastily to China`s premeditated assault under pressure from the furious public at home.

In this regard, the opposition Grand National Party did well by proposing to add its support in hopes of tackling the issue more effectively. It would be a blessing in disguise if the two rival parties can suspend their mutually destructive attacks on one another and cooperate in confronting China for its history aggression. Coordination between the parties will streamline their efforts to deal with the provocation at all levels - both at home and abroad.

Considering that this is going to be a long war of nerves, the nation needs to be prepared to battle with reason, not emotion. Koreans should recall from past experience that internal division is most detrimental for countering external powers` infringement upon their sovereignty, whether related to historical identity or to political independence. Our diplomats should no longer be deceived by Chinese counterparts who feign to defend the rewriting of our history as a product of "academic pursuits and self-governance of individual schools and local administrations." Above all, China is urged to give up its effort to exploit the situation on the divided peninsula. It must know, and apparently is taking advantage of the fact that North Korea, which desperately needs its economic assistance, is not in a position to protest outright over its provocation. But it must also be aware that Goguryeo, and the preceding kingdom of Old Joseon as well as its successor Balhae, though they prospered in what today is Chinese territory, all belong to Korean history and constitute the roots of the Korean nation. China should keep in mind the universal lesson of history that justice will prevail in the long run.

(Korea Herald 2004-8-9)