Strain in Seoul-Beijing Ties

The relations between Seoul and Beijing, which marked the 12th anniversary of their establishment Tuesday, are now undergoing a bitter test because of China¡¯s misrepresentation of the history of the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo. Despite Seoul¡¯s intensive efforts, the issue will be hardly resolved to the satisfaction of our government due to Beijing¡¯s intransigent stance amidst its growing nationalism.

The consequence may be the serious erosion of the bilateral relationship, which has developed remarkably politically, diplomatically andeconomically over the past 12 years.

China has now emerged as our largest trading partner, replacing theUnited States, and our biggest source of investment abroad. Last year, bilateral trade amounted to $57 billion, registering a whopping 8.7-fold increase from the $6.4 billion of 1992. Two-way trade volumeis expected to exceed $100 billion next year, three years ahead of initial projections.

Without doubt, China is the chief mediator in the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the U.S. as it is endeavoring to settle the issue peacefully in the framework of the six-way dialogs, which alsoinvolves Seoul, Tokyo and Moscow. Beijing is also cooperating with Seoul in helping North Korean defectors find shelter in the South, even to the extent of risking its relations with Pyongyang.

The historical dispute has recently escalated, following the Chinese Foreign Ministry¡¯s deletion from its website of all details of Korean history before the foundation of the republic in 1948. This was the Chinese state agency¡¯s response to Seoul¡¯s request that it restore the content concerning Koguryo (37 B.C.- A.D. 668) which it removed from the website in February. To the dismay of the Korean people, in recent years China has systemically misrepresented the history of Koguryo, which occupied vast areas of its northeastern region in its heyday, asserting that the ancient kingdom is a part of its own history.

Reflecting Beijing¡¯s concerns about the negative impact of the issue on bilateral relations, Wu Dawei, Chinese vice foreign minister for Asian affairs, made a sudden visit to Seoul Sunday in order to patch up differences between the two countries. The outcome of his talks with Seoul¡¯s leaders including Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon has been kept secret, but seems to have fallen far short of satisfying Seoul.The real purpose of his visit was reportedly to simply soothe Seoulin preparation for the visit of China¡¯s No. 4 leader, Jai Qinglin,tomorrow.

We sincerely hope that China immediately stops its naive behavior and takes appropriate measures to restore the distorted history of theancient kingdom. This would be the first step in expanding bilateralrelations based on mutual trust and confidence between the Korean and Chinese peoples.

(Korea Times 2004-8-24)