[Editorial] China`s misguided nationalism

The Chinese move to incorporate the Goguryeo Dynasty into its ancient history is absurd, but beyond that it is also alarming because it appears to reflect a trend of rising nationalism in that giant country. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence of the nationalistic trend these days in China`s official and private behaviors, and that is generating concern among China`s neighbors over the emergence of new hegemonism and expansionism Many China watchers noted Chinese fans` wild, unruly rooting for their national squad during the recent Asian Cup soccer championship - particularly their show of raw antagonism toward Korean and Japanese teams. In a country where few spontaneous popular actions are seen, this outpouring of public sentiment is understood as resulting from surging national pride among the people, combined with their competitive mentality toward more economically advanced neighbors.

China`s leaders deserve credit for creating a national atmosphere in which people`s confidence in their own economic gains, sprinkled with a certain antipathy toward foreign competitors, has kept them from making demands for rapid democratic progress, a theme feared since the events at Tiananmen Square a decade and a half ago. The peculiar academic effort, called the "Northeast Asia Project" which is focused on rearranging ancient history to claim China`s control of Manchuria millennia ago, is apparently part of such an endeavor.

In Beijing`s official circles, new emphasis is being given to the national theme of "rich nation, strong military." This goal was introduced during the 16th general convention of the Chinese Communist Party and was again presented by President Hu Jintao to the 15th educational session of the CCP political bureau last month. Hu stressed to top party cadres that defense capabilities should be increased in tandem with economic power to promote national interests in a competitive world.

Hu`s emphasis on strong armed forces, which some viewed as a challenge to the power of Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin in the complex leadership structure in Beijing, is an expression of China`s new policy to take a more aggressive stance on defense and external affairs on the basis of its economic strength. The new policy direction is reflected in China`s appreciable efforts to help settle the North Korean nuclear arms problem through the ongoing multilateral talks in Beijing.

On the other hand, China has expressed increasingly vehement criticisms about Japan glossing over its past history and recent "provocative" acts such as Prime Minister Koizumi`s frequent visits to the Yasukuni war shrine. These can be understood as a legitimate reaction to Tokyo`s aberrations, but China`s own tampering with ancient Goguryeo history is simply deplorable and intolerable. Beijing`s obliteration of Korea`s entire history up until the 1948 founding of the Republic of Korea on its government Internet website in response to Seoul`s official protest is an infantile action.

Despite its long history, China in a sense is a young country in terms of economic development and democratic political maturity. To this growing nation, we are willing to offer a sincere recommendation regarding its national course, for its own benefit as well as for peace and prosperity in the East Asian region.

Externally, Beijing should try to exercise leadership in the region more spontaneously to create a viable East Asian community and enhance forward-looking economic and security cooperation to counter the European and American blocs. Pursuing this lofty objective would be a good use of China`s newly earned economic might and political clout.

Internally, the Beijing leadership should prepare quietly for democratic development, from local party representation to the center, to meet the growing public demand that is foreseeable as a consequence of economic advancement, and avoid disastrous upheavals.

In pursuing these worthy policy goals, the Chinese authorities must find no room to engage in such useless and counterproductive activities as denying a neighboring country`s historical origin.

(Korea Herald 2004-8-13)