President Roh Regrets China's Claim to Old Kingdom, Urges Measures

President Roh Moo-hyun expressed "deep regret" Friday over a diplomatic row between South Korea and China stemming from the latter's recent claim to an ancient Korean Kingdom and urged China to take measures to address South Korea's concerns.

The president expressed regret to Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, at a meeting at the presidential office, according to Roh's spokesman Kim Jong-min.

In preparation for Jia's Seoul visit, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei visited Seoul earlier this week to reach a five-point verbal understanding on the Koguryo Kingdom in which South Korean officials said China pledged not to revise school textbooks that describe the kingdom as part of Korea's history, and both sides agreed to make efforts to limit the issue to academic rather than political debate.

China, however, fell short of agreeing to restore references to Koguryo as part of Korean history on its Foreign Ministry homepage that were deleted in April.

The history dispute began earlier this year when a state-funded Chinese history project claimed that Koguryo, which controlled the upper part of the Korean Peninsula and most of northeastern China for about 700 years (37 B.C.-668 A.D.), is part of its history.

In the meeting with Jia, Roh demanded China fully reckon the "serious attitude" of the South Korean government and people on the Koguryo issue and take measures in accordance with the agreement made between the two governments in a swift and convincing manner.

The Roh-Jia meeting was held as hundreds of people representing 195 civic groups nationwide held a rally at a park in downtown Seoul to denounce China for trying to lay claim to the Koguryo history.

They urged China to stop the so-called Northeast Asia Project, under which the Chinese government reportedly supports scholars in research on the Koguryo history to help them lay the academic groundwork to merge Koguryo into China's history.

"It is a clear violation that China distorts the history of its neighbor for the benefit of its national interests," a participant said.

Jia, No. 4 in the hierarchy of China's Communist Party who flew into Seoul Wednesday at the invitation of National Assembly Speaker Kim One-ki, said China hoped the Koguryo issue would not undermine relations and that the Chinese government will deal with the issue in full consideration of the concerns of South Korea over the issue.

At the start of his meeting with Roh, Jia conveyed a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao on the Koguryo issue.

"The relationship between China and South Korea has recently been affected to a certain degree by the issue of Koguryo," Hu was quoted as saying. "We will be able to resolve each other's concerns properly, with ample wisdom, if we respect and act with regard to each other from long-term and strategic points of view."
The Chinese president was also cited by Jia as saying that "It was not easy for China and South Korea to have developed a bilateral relationship to this stage, and both sides need to keep the relationship."
Earlier in the day, Jia met with National Assembly Speaker Kim One-ki.

In the meeting, Kim told Jia, "I cannot help but mention the Koguryo history issue, as (South Korea's) public sentiment about it is serious."
"The public considers the Koguryo issue as more important than any other political and economic interests. With the visit of Chairman Jia, I hope this issue will be resolved smoothly and the two countries' relations will be developed further," Kim said.

Jia said he is well aware that the history dispute has emerged as a "salient issue" that can damage the two countries' relations.

"We're dealing with this issue in a sincere and responsible manner," he said, adding that Beijing's dispatch of one of its vice foreign ministers, Wu Dawei, to Seoul earlier this week reflects its sincere attitude.

In the meeting with Jia, Roh asked China to continue to play a constructive role in resolving the North Korean nuclear arms issue, according to the president's spokesman, Kim Jong-min.

Roh and Jia shared the understanding that they need to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in a rapid, peaceful manner.

China, the closest communist ally of North Korea, has successfully brokered three rounds of six-nation nuclear talks, but is having difficulty persuading Pyongyang to come out for another round before the end of September as earlier agreed, due mainly to the North lashing out at Washington ahead of the November presidential election in the United States.

"Resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is a basis for peace in Northeast Asia." Jia said in an ensuing meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan.

Jia also said China has maintained a consistent policy that the nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons.

Premier Lee, for his part, said, "If the North freezes and dismantles its nuclear program, we will provide unsparing economic assistance and other support so that the North can reform and open up."
On the Taiwan issue, President Roh reaffirmed the government's support for China's position to maintain a "one China" policy in which it considers Taiwan as part of China.

Roh also invited Chinese President Hu to visit Seoul at an opportune time.

On the North Korean defector issue, National Assembly Kim One-ki asked Jia to ensure humanitarian treatment of North Koreans hiding in China, saying the defectors should not be sent back to their communist homeland against their will.

Jia said his country does not consider North Korean defectors as refugees. In spite of this, however, he said he thinks the two countries will be able to deal smoothly with the issue if they make efforts based on mutual respect and understanding.

By Hwang Doo-hyong

(Yonhap News 2004-8-27)