Mending ties in hard timesYOU SANG-CHUL
The author is the head of the China Institute at the JoongAng Ilbo.
It is quite strange. Whenever the Olympics are held in Beijing, Korea-China relations plummet. At the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Korean athletes did not receive China’s welcome. They did not receive the same applause given to Taiwan and Japan. In the preliminary baseball round between Korea and Japan, China cheered for Japan. At the archery final, Chinese spectators whistled and interrupted whenever Korean archers were getting ready.
Korea was upset too. At the closing ceremony, a map labeling the East Sea as the “Sea of Japan” was displayed.
Hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, being featured in the opening ceremony and biased decisions led to criticism that Sinocentrism was swallowing the Olympics. Chinese people poured the throwing up emoji face all over online posts relating to Korean athletes and their cheering squads. Why is this being repeated? It is not accidental but a result of accumulated emotions.
The direct cause that triggered the anti-Korean sentiment in China in 2008 was one Korean broadcaster’s rush to report the Olympic ceremony rehearsal, spoiling the opening event. But what’s more important is the fact that the sentiments had already significantly worsened. Korea was upset that China was stealing Korea’s Goguryeo history, and China claimed that Korea stole the Dano (the 5th day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar) tradition. Disputes over historical and cultural origins continue.
This year is no different. The root is China’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) retaliation that started in 2016. Armed with patriotism, China claimed that Korean culture originates from China in general, including kimchi and hanbok, and the bilateral relations have since fallen into a bottomless pit.
Then, should the Korea-China relations be left as is? That is not the case. In 2008, a Korean resident in China started a campaign of approaching with a humble and warm mindset. Then Chinese President Hu Jintao showed goodwill by visiting Korea only 13 hours after the closing of the Beijing Olympics.
How should the gap between Korea and China, affirmed through the Winter Olympics, be closed? Who will take the job? On Feb. 8, Hwang Dae-heon, the men’s 1500-meter short track speed skating gold medalist, posted words by Michael Jordan on social media. “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Hwang wrote it when he was disqualified, not when he won the medal. Korea-China relations are in jeopardy, but we should all seek ways to reach a resolution. Such an effort should be made in hard times, rather than when everything is working well.