Seoul orders check for history distortions

With interest in the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo heightened nationwide by China`s claims, Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan yesterday called on his cabinet to monitor closely any distortions of Korean history in overseas countries.

At a policy coordination meeting, Lee ordered his cabinet to check thoroughly for any false descriptions in history textbooks in other countries and to deal with these immediately, an official at the state information office said.

Jung Soon-kyun, deputy head of the Korean Government Information Agency, quoted the prime minister as saying, "There is a need to let the people of other countries be aware of our correct history." Lee also authorized the cabinet to work on three separate approaches to deal with China`s distortion of Korean history and claims to the age-old Goguryeo Kingdom, which reigned over most of the upper half of the Korean Peninsula and parts of Manchuria from 37 B.C. to 668 A.D.

"There should be distinct approaches toward China, our public and other countries in dealing with the distortion of the history of Goguryeo," Jung quoted Lee as saying.

While insisting on continued research to take the "upper hand" in possible debates with China on the status of Goguryeo, he also ordered involved departments to cooperate with North Korea in dealing with the dispute, according to Jung.

Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon also reiterated Seoul`s stance on Goguryeo when he resumed his weekly news conference routine after an eight-week hiatus caused by the kidnap-murder late June in Iraq of translator Kim Sun-il.

Stressing Seoul will firmly deal with any sign of attempts by China to distort history in any way, Ban said Korea must approach the issue cautiously, based on thorough research and discussion.

"The government will continue to demand corrections to any kind of distortion of history it finds, and will resolutely deal with any move by China to claim Goguryeo as one of its own kingdoms," Ban told reporters.

"China`s distortion of Korean history in reference to the Goguryeo kingdom is an issue that shakes the roots and identity of our people and the government must tackle the problem with a strong and firm stance." Regarding the possibility of China`s distortion of history in its school textbooks, Ban said the government "must extend utmost diplomatic emphasis so that falsely stated information does not become included in their books." He added, "The issue will be closely monitored and countered with in broad government operations." The conflict emerged as a diplomatic issue between Seoul and Beijing earlier this year after a state-funded Chinese research project claimed Goguryeo was a provincial government of China.

Then in April a reference to Goguryeo was omitted from the Chinese Foreign Ministry Web site, arousing fury among Koreans in general, and the lawmakers in particular.

Last week, the Chinese deleted from the Web site all references prior to 1948 of Korea`s history, including the ancient kingdom.

The Chinese move is viewed as a major embarrassment to Seoul, which has been demanding Beijing restore references to Goguryeo that were removed in April from the introduction to Korean history on the ministry Web site.

By Choi Soung-ah

(Korea Herald 2004-8-12)