Korea, China reach agreement on Goguryeo history

Disputes surrounding China’s claim over Korea’s ancient Goguryeo kingdom took a positive turn after China promised on Monday (August 23) to take due measures to settle the issue.

After months of negotiations, Seoul and Beijing reached an agreement in which Beijing pledged not to put its assertion over Goguryeo in its history textbooks as well as to stop such claims by the central and provincial governments.

The two sides agreed to make joint efforts to prevent the history disputes from developing into a political issue in a five-point “verbal understanding” that was reached after their senior diplomatic officials held marathon negotiations over the past three days in Seoul.

However, Beijing declined to accept Seoul’s demand to restore on its Foreign Ministry Web site the part on Korean history including the ancient kingdom.

“It can be regarded that both sides took a significant step forward on the issue, rather than it being completely settled. We intend to set a solid direction,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said during a news briefing.

The official said the two governments agreed to interpret the first point of the verbal understanding that “China is mindful of the fact that the Goguryeo question has emerged as a significant pending issue between the two countries” as meaning such an incident will not happen again.

Diplomatic experts here said China wanted an early settlement of the issue as it has strained bilateral ties, which marked their 12th anniversary on Monday.

China also intended to clear away the obstacle before Jia Qinglin, China’s No. 4 leader and Chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, visits Seoul on Tuesday, the experts said.

China dispatched its new Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to Seoul on Sunday with the Beijing government’s promise not to distort the Goguryeo history in its textbooks.

Wu, a former ambassador to South Korea, held a series of meetings with officials here, including Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin and Lee Jong-seok, deputy chief of the National Security Council.

The Goguryeo issue drew wide public attention when the Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted in April references to Goguryeo from its Web site on Korean history, which was regarded here as China’s attempt to incorporate the ancient Korean kingdom into China’s history.

South Korea demanded China restore the portion it had deleted, but China early this month then cut out its entire description of Korean history before the 1948 establishment of Republic of Korea.

The history issue emerged in the open when Chinese researchers in the 1990s conducted a variety of studies aimed at separating the tribal origins of Goguryeo from Korean history.