[GLOBAL EYE]Time to wake up about ChinaIt might be for our own good after all. If China’s attempt to distort the history of Northeast Asia with the Goguryeo issue helps Koreans wake up from its sweet daydream, I dare say the friction would be good for Korea. It could be a wake-up call for us to realize what China really means before it’s too late.
Already our biggest export market, China’s presence cannot be neglected in terms of the economy. When it comes to national security, we all know China’s importance. On the North Korean nuclear issue, among others, Seoul recognizes Beijing as the partner who understands our situation best. We also admit that a peaceful resolution of the nuclear tension on the peninsula cannot be achieved without the help of China.
Opinion poll results indicate that Koreans consider China as the neighbor who shares our sentiments the most. Even so, Beijing never follows our lead in discussions of the future of North Korea, not to mention the nuclear issue. They not only oppose Washington influencing the North, but also are not comfortable with the idea of accomplishing unification through a spiritual integration of both Koreas. Beijing believes that it cannot afford the turmoil in the frontier that would follow North Korea’s collapse, and that its best option is to appease Pyeongyang to prevent any further aggravation.
In dealing with North Korean defectors, Beijing’s action has been quite below the level South Koreans expected. In fact, I am not so confident that even Koreans are generous enough to accept the defectors from the North unconditionally. When the U.S. Congress expressed concern over the issue of North Koreans’ human rights, South Korean lawmakers became furious and civic groups were enraged. Understanding the nature of Koreans, Beijing conveniently justifies its position on defectors by mentioning Pyeongyang’s opposition, and does as it pleases.
It’s time to wake up. On the nuclear issue, whether we beg or not, China’s attitude toward the North is unaffected. The only country that has even a mild influence on China’s dealings with the nuclear North is the United States. China’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula is framed by its relations with the United States. Not only the nuclear issue, but a considerable part of its dealings with the two Koreas are planned with the future of China-United States relations in mind. Therefore, Beijing will only act when it judges that the nuclear tension is a serious threat to its own national interest.
In large part, Washington’s hardline policy toward North Korea is more or less aimed at Beijing. Washington’s Korean Peninsula policy is increasingly fitted into the larger frame of its strategy against China. The restructuring of the U.S. forces in Korea is part of this.
Meanwhile, we are crying for collaboration between the two Koreas regarding China’s distortion of the history of Goguryeo. What is the point of asking for cooperation from Pyeongyang, which goes its own way? I do not intend to oppose the government’s plan to subsidize the preservation of the historical relics of Goguryeo and to back up the experts, for it has to be done sooner or later.
But it is naive for us to believe that we can collaborate with Pyeongyang in the effort to correct the historical record. After all, North Korea, which has dubbed the tomb of Dangun, Korea’s mythical founder, a sacred place, and which claims to have inherited the legitimacy of Goguryeo, leaves it to the South to correct historical distortions.
Nor is it in Korea’s national interest to say that we will not ask Japan to take responsibility for its past wrongdoings. This dauntless and arrogant attitude coming from the lack of understanding of history will only encourage neighbors who share our history to come up with their own versions of the past.
Now, part of the country is arguing about the identity and legitimacy of the state and the government, while the other part is threatening to verify the wrongdoings of the past. At this juncture, the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s ambition to lead Northeast Asia, including China and Japan, into the future sounds futile.
If we are to waste energy debating the identity of the state and the events of the past, at least some of us should be considering who among our neighbors is the most trustworthy and dependable partner. Why have we not realized that North Korea is behind the shaking identity of our society and Korea’s shrinking strategic space? Ah, Goguryeo! The division of the nation was the original sin.
* The writer is an editorial writer and director of the JoongAng Ilbo’s Research Institute of Unification Culture.
by Kil Jeong-woo
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action