[EDITORIALS]Not So Fast on Choson Documents

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[EDITORIALS]Not So Fast on Choson Documents

South Korea and France held a fourth round of negotiations on the return of Choson Dynasty historical documents kept in Paris. Korean scholars are now examining the 297 books held in France to get a better appreciation for their historical and artistic value. The two countries also reportedly agreed that they would first exchange books which the other does not have. That principle had been agreed in principle by the heads of the negotiating teams.

It is welcome, although belated, for the National Library of France to allow Korean scholars to peruse the French-held books inside the library. Our experts should study the archives that French soldiers confiscated in 1866.

The tentative agreement says that exchanges of artifacts between the two countries will begin with the dispatch to Korea of books in the French archives in which Korea is particularly interested because no duplicate copies exist here. Korea will in return, send to France books of the same period (1630-1857) that Korea has duplicate copies of but the French do not. Also to be exchanged, according to the agreement, are Korean royal publications now in France for books in Korea which were produced for commoners.

The negotiations' principle is that we must send similar artifacts for the return of our own pillaged cultural relics. That, to some people, is no more than a justification of the original looting, but realists contend that this is the only way to solve the problem. From the beginning of the dispute in 1993, they say, the government treated the temporary mutual exchange of books as if it were a return in the form of a permanent loan.

Both the realistic and the principled arguments make sense, but we would like to ask if there is an urgent reason to reach an agreement if the root principle of ill-gotten gains is not addressed. It may be better to leave the issue open; even if the two governments reach a "realistic" agreement, royal archivists at Seoul National University and librarians at the Academy of Korean Studies are adamantly opposed to the swap. Another strategy might emerge once the French archives are thoroughly examined. We hope the government will not take hasty measures it will later regret.
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