China has renewed a claim over Goguryeo, one of the three ancient Korean kingdoms, as being part of its own history. It also claims old Joseon and Balhae were part of ancient China, an unmistakable attempt to rewrite its influence on Korean history into Chinese history.
The claims are contained in the abstracts of papers a Chinese research institute has recently posted in its website. The posting violates a 2004 \"verbal understanding\" that China would take no action to trigger a diplomatic row over ancient history.
The Chinese claims, contradicted by historical records, are apparently politically motivated. The reasons range from the control of ethnic minorities to the prevention of border disputes. But China will have to understand that history is history and it cannot be sacrificed to its political goals, no matter what. Otherwise, China will be accused of being imperialistic in the interpretation of history, if not in realpolitik.
What China needs to do is encourage unbiased academic research in its shared history with Korea and others. A first step toward this end is to guarantee unhindered access to historical records that China has in its possession, and to historical sites located in its territory. These should be open to Korean historians and other foreign experts. It must not repeat the past practice of denying Korean historians access to monuments and tombs of Goguryeo and Balhae.
For its part, the South Korean government has much to do to keep ancient Korean history from being misinterpreted by the Chinese. It will have to subsidize studies by Korean historians, sponsor conferences with foreign experts and promote joint research projects with North Korea, to name only a few.
At the same time, the South Korean government needs to remind the Korean people that China\'s misinterpretation of history is no less serious than Japan\'s attempt to whitewash its wartime past.