China`s Goguryeo motives probed

The Goguryeo Research Foundation, a Korean academic group composed of historians and China experts, examined key issues surrounding the history disputes with China at a conference yesterday.

"While previous forums focused on the facts about Goguryeo Kingdom and the legitimacy of Korea`s claim for the ancient kingdom, this conference is designed to identify China`s real motive and strategy," said Kim Jeong-bae, director of the foundation.

The conference, held at a hotel in downtown Seoul, is the latest of a series of academic forums aimed at countering China`s repeated claims that Goguryeo belongs to the Chinese history.

The Korea-Chinese diplomatic relations have strained because of the rout over the kingdom, even though their economic interdependence is growing amid a surge of bilateral trade.

The Goguryeo foundation`s conference highlighted the details of China`s strategy to promote its own perspective of history, while discussing its policy toward ethnic minorities and the distortion of Korean history in Chinese college textbooks.

"The bigger issue is that China`s ambition goes beyond Goguryeo and stretches into the entire Northeast Asia region," said Kim, former president of Korea University in Seoul.

China touched off a huge controversy here by making an attempt to incorporate Goguryeo into its own history. Korean scholars, civic activists and politicians continue to oppose China`s alleged move to distort history.

While many believe historical evidence supports the argument that Goguryeo was a kingdom of ancient Korea, artifacts from the period have been held and preserved by China because of their geographical distribution within its borders. The kingdom stretched from the northern region of the Korean Peninsula into the northeastern part of what is today China.

Lee Hee-ok, professor of Hanshin University, outlined China`s claims about Goguryeo by assembling and citing various Chinese documents. Lee argued that Korean policymakers and scholars should focus on China`s broader efforts to identify its history and stabilize minority-related conflicts rather than its alleged political ambition in the Northeast Asian region.

Lee said that long-term measures are in order and policymakers should come up with effective measures that can deal with China`s aggressive stance. "In fleshing out policy measures, the government should separate Goguryeo and other territorial disputes, while taking initiatives in mapping out Northeast Asian history," Lee said.

Park Jang-bae, research professor of Hanshin University, said China`s current stance should be understood in line with its broader integration policies for peripheral regions. "China is pushing for a massive development project in the poverty-stricken mid-western region, which is bound to reconfigure ethnic minority structure there," Park said.

China is keen to protect its national identity from potential challenges stemming from its fast-paced economic development and market-opening measures. "Given that China is now trying to reorganize its mid-western ethnic map, it is hardly surprising that China wants to put its own perspective in other regions like Northeast that affects Goguryeo and Korea," Park said.

Gogoryeo foundation`s assistant researcher Lim Sang-seon said the latest showdown traces back to the conflict over the history of Balhae (Po-hai) Kingdom about 20 years ago.

"Korean and Chinese scholars are still arguing over the founders of Balhae, its ethnic composition and cultural foundation, and China is applying the same tactics to the dispute over Goguryeo," Lim said.

Balhae is a nation that prospered for 229 years from 698 to 926 in the Manchurian region, and Korea, China and Russia are interested in the history of the ancient kingdom because contemporary history continues to unfold across the old territory of Balhae.

Lim said China`s alleged attempt to "distort history" will continue until all the northern kingdoms will be incorporated into its history. "Eventually, the dispute will spread into other areas of ancient Korean history," he predicted.

Meanwhile, Yoo Yong-tae of Seoul National University offered a meticulous comparison between the old and new history textbooks used in Chinese colleges. "In a nutshell, the new textbooks reflect China-oriented and imperialistic perspectives," he said.

Korean scholars believe the dispute over Goguryeo has come as China is bent on streamlining its policy toward ethnic minorities. China has long labeled neighboring minority peoples as "barbarians" and the current Chinese policymakers are keen to integrate its potentially divisive ethnic groups into its Han Chinese historical legacy.

China is wary of the Goguryeo boom in Korea, which could lead to a civic and political movement claiming for the lost territory in the Manchurian region. Korea is also deeply worried about China`s motive about the claim for Goguryeo since the issue could affect ethnic Koreans living in the Manchurian region.

The controversy between the scholars of the two countries over Goguryeo was first triggered in 2002 when China`s state-run Social Science Academy launched the "Northeast Asia Project," a $2 million program on the regional studies of Northeast Asia.

By Yang Sung-jin

(Korea Herald 2004-10-27)