[VIEWPOINT]Kowtowing atop Mount Baekdu

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[VIEWPOINT]Kowtowing atop Mount Baekdu

The fall morning breeze these days seems fresher than ever ― perhaps this summer was unusually long and hot. However, one photograph on the front page of the newspaper ruined my morning.
It was a photo of the lighting of the sacred fire for the 6th Asian Winter Games, to be held in Changchun, Northeast China, in January next year, at Mount Baekdu. The picture showed young Chinese girls in white dresses holding the fire, lit by a concave mirror like the lighting of the sacred fire for the Olympic Games in Greece. One thing different from the lighting of the sacred fire for the Olympic Games is that the background of the lighting was not the Temple of Hera at Olympia, but Mount Baekdu and Cheonji, the sacred mountain of Korea and the volcanic lake at its top.
This photograph was, of course, sent all over the world through the worldwide network of the Associated Press. Now foreigners who see the photograph will remember Mount Baekdu as a Chinese mountain.
Of course it can be said that there is no need for us to say anything about what the Chinese do on their land. According to the “China-North Korea frontier treaty,” signed by North Korea and China in 1962, about 45 percent of Cheonji lake belongs to China. Therefore, there is no problem as far as international law is concerned. However, this photograph definitely provokes South Koreans. This photo proclaims that “Changbai-san,” the Chinese name for Mount Baekdu, is a Chinese mountain, regardless of whether a frontier treaty was signed by China and North Korea, and the epitaph on the monument erected at the mountaintop in commemoration of the agreement on the national boundary that runs through the mountain; the agreement was between the Joseon and Qing Dynasties in 1712.
Why did China, at this point in time, choose Mount Baekdu among numerous mountains as the venue for lighting the sacred fire? And why did they release it throughout the whole world, so boastfully? The answer is in the photograph itself. This photograph symbolically shows us the ultimate goal of China’s project for its northeastern provinces.
The essence of its northeast province project does not stop at distorting ancient history, but also aims to prevent any current or future territorial disputes, such as over the Gando area in Manchuria. When the time comes, China secretly plans to advance into North Korea and make it the “fourth northeast province of China.” It is no coincidence that a Chinese scholar presented a theory that our land north of the Han River belonged to China and that Chinese troops plans to stage a large-scale river-crossing exercise at the Yalu River in winter.
The country is in chaos right now because of such things as the recent photo taken on top of Mount Baekdu, the distortion of Balhae’s history and the Chinese move to be the host of the Winter Olympics by proposing Mount Baekdu as the ideal venue. For the first time after a long time, even the opposition and governing parties are speaking in one voice.
However, so far we have been reacting naively to the Chinese plan. When the press and scholars strongly protested in 2004, the Korean government hesitantly established a gentlemanly treaty with China to stop the distortion of history. However, China dismissed the treaty as if it were an old shoe, and pursued a clandestine plan called the “northeast province project” with greater persistence and on a broader scale. Now they have even come to the stage of promoting another one, the “Mount Baekdu Project.”
Instead of actively counteracting the China move, our government kept silent and aided the Northeast Asian strategy, saying we should not provoke China. Moreover, after just two years the government dismantled the Goguryeo Studies Foundation, which was practically the only institute that dealt with the situation scientifically, and merged it with the Northeast Asian History Foundation. And last week, it testified at the National Assembly that “China has not distorted history since 2004.” That is why the people are furious. How can the government be like this unless they have decided to hand over the history of Goguryeo and Mount Baekdu to China?
The government seems to think that no good will come out of making China uncomfortable since China actually controls North Korea, and it is a member of the six-way talks. In that case, what have we gained from China or North Korea in return for keeping silent about China’s north east province project and even cooperating with China? What have we gained other than North Korea’s threats of nuclear testing and missile firing, and the blatant greed of China over our land?
It is because the government is not doing much that the citizens go out on the street and collect 10 million signatures to show our determination to defend our territorial right. It is not too late. Whether it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Blue House, the government should make a task force in charge of China’s north east province project and counteract comprehensively and systematically.
Why can’t we invite the Dalai Lama to Seoul? We must fight against the Chinese with the spirit of “independence” we had when we fought against Japan over the Dokdo Island or the history textbooks situation. Of course, scholars should prepare themselves for a rational and scholarly struggle against their counterparts in China. Counteracting together with North Korea is another way. Only then will we be able to defend our 5,000 year long history and our beautiful country. If we neglect our duty, we will become the sinners of history.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik
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