Beijing Backs Off in Koguryo Dispute

China promised it would no longer attempt to misrepresent the history of the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, calling a halt to the first round of the ``history battle¡¯¡¯ between the two nations which marked the 12th anniversary of diplomatic ties Tuesday.

Seoul and Beijing reached a five-point ``verbal understanding¡¯¡¯ toaddress the bilateral dispute on kingdom of Koguryo (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), South Korea¡¯s Foreign Affairs-Trade Minister Ban Ki-moon said at the National Assembly.

``China well knows that the Koguryo issue has emerged as a serious problem between the two nations,¡¯¡¯ he told lawmakers. ``Both sidesshare the view that this historical issue should not undermine bilateral relations.¡¯¡¯The vaguely worded ``understanding,¡¯¡¯ which Seoul officials said is still diplomatically binding, was reached at the end of lengthy closed-door discussions between the two countries¡¯ vice foreign ministers on Monday. While giving a background briefing to reporters at Seoul¡¯s Foreign Ministry, a senior diplomat said that although absent from the verbal understanding, China also pledged not to lay claim to Koguryo in its history textbooks to be revised soon. ``China promised that there would be no more government-level, central or provincial, attempts to distort the history of Koguryo,¡¯¡¯ hesaid on condition of anonymity.

Beijing, however, did not accept Seoul¡¯s demand that it restore its Foreign Ministry¡¯s Web site to its original state before the history dispute began.

In April, the Chinese ministry deleted references to Koguryo from its Web pages on Korean history. This action, which followed a series of similar moves by state-sponsored academic and media organizations, was interpreted by Seoul as an apparent attempt by China to claimthe kingdom as part of its own history.

South Korea strongly demanded the references be restored, but China, instead of complying with the call, removed the entire description of Korea¡¯s history up until 1948, when the modern Republic of Korea was founded. China¡¯s latest action came after it apparently recognized that it would not benefit from the history dispute developing into a full political row. A rising business powerhouse, Beijing might have fearedside effects, facing pressure from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, experts said. Just days ahead of the 12th anniversary of the Seoul-Beijing relationship, China appointed Wu Dawei, former ambassador to Korea, as its new vice foreign minister for Asian affairs, and dispatched him to Seoul on Sunday. Wu¡¯s visit, ministry officials said, seemed to be aimed at putting an end to the row ahead of a planned visit to South Korea by China¡¯s No. 4 leader, Jia Qinglin, on Thursday.

Despite yesterday¡¯s ``understanding,¡¯¡¯ however, the history battle doesn¡¯t seem to have come to a close, as is likely to resurface in the future, experts say. ``We can say the first round of the battle is over,¡¯¡¯ Prof. Park Doo-bok of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) told The Korea Times.

He said it was a productive result for Seoul to get a promise from Beijing not to revise history textbooks in a way that distorts history, one of South Korea¡¯s main concerns.

``But the problems related to China¡¯s Foreign Ministry¡¯s Web sitewere left untouched,¡¯¡¯ he stressed, ``which means the history dispute has not been fully resolved, but simply has been placed to one side for the moment. ¡¯¡¯The senior diplomatic official, who gave the background briefing, also told reporters that this should not be regarded as a full resolution.

``We consider this a first step,¡¯¡¯ he said. ``We will keep vigilant to ensure that this understanding is honored and developed further.¡¯

By Ryu Jin / Staff Reporter

(Korea Times 2004-8-24)