EAST ASIA: President Roh regrets China history project

At the Asia-Europe Meeting, Roh expresses concerned to China PM Wen Jiabao that the 'Northeastern Project' could hurt bilateral ties

Korea Times
Sunday, September 10, 2006

By Ryu Jin

Helsinki, Finland --- President Roh Moo-hyun expressed regrets to China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Sunday over Beijing's "Northeastern Project," a history research program which claims part of South Korea's ancient history as its own.

In a one-on-one meeting with the Chinese premier on the sidelines of the sixth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) here in the Finnish capital, Roh said that the research could affect bilateral ties significantly.

Presidential spokesman Yoon Tai-young quoted Roh as saying: "Even if the research is carried out only for academic purposes, it could have negative repercussions on the bilateral relations."

Roh asked the premier to take proper steps on the matter in accordance with the previous agreement calling for China to stop the distortion of Korean ancient history.

A public uproar erupted recently in South Korea after a Beijing-funded research project conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences argued that Korea's Palhae kingdom (699-926) was a vassal state of China.

China tried a similar claim to Koguryo (37 B.C.-668 A.D.) a couple of years ago in a bid to bring the ancient kingdom into its own history. In a verbal agreement with Seoul in 2004, Beijing promised to take proper measures to stop such attempts.

"We respect the bilateral agreement," Wen replied to Roh, according to Yoon. "It's an academic issue, but we instructed the researchers not to cause any negative implications to the bilateral ties. We will take further necessary measures."

In the 50-minute talks, arranged at the request of the Chinese side, Roh and Wen also discussed North Korea's nuclear problems. Officials said the two leaders agreed to make joint efforts to persuade Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks.

Roh, meanwhile, remained reserved with Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, exposing uneasy relations between the two in recent years. Roh encountered Koizumi at the ASEM conference with little ensuing conversation between the two, according to officials.

"After a brief ceremonial handshake, Prime Minister Koizumi told President Roh that he is satisfied with a recent agreement to conduct a radioactive contamination survey in the waters between the two countries," Yoon said. "President Roh just told him back that he `knows that well."'

Seoul and Tokyo have been in sour relations due to some Japanese leaders' interpretation of history in Japan's favor, Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial war shrine and Japan's claims to South Korea's Dokdo islets.

At the biennial ASEM summit, Roh suggested a multilateral security regime for Northeast Asia, similar to that in Europe, despite some obstacles in the region such as the history disputes.

He also stressed the need for ASEM countries to address such global challenges as the deepening socioeconomic polarization between regions, nations and social classes.