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Conflicts in Asia


Northeast Asia Project - By Hyunjin Kang-Graham(Korean)

Dispute over history: China's Northeast Asia Project

China carried out a national project called ‘Studies of History and Geography of Northeast Borderland and a Series of Phenomena?often shortened as ?ortheast Asia Project?, from 2002 to 2006. This project was led by the Center for the Study of Borderland History and Geography under the Chinese Academy of Social Science with the participation of the committees of three provinces in Dongbei (formerly called Manchuria), including Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang. Although the Chinese government insisted that the purpose of the project was simply to do systematic research on the three provinces, the outcome raised tensions between China and Korea. The project attempted to incorporate Korea? ancient kingdoms of Gojoseon (2333 B.C.-108 B.C.), Goguryeo (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and Balhae (A.D. 698- A.D. 926) into Chinese history.

Many Koreans think that China has attempted to cut Korea? 5,000-year-history in half by denying that Korean national identity derives from the ancient civilization of Goguryeo (also spelled Koguryo). Goguryeo was a prosperous kingdom that occupied the northern part of the Korean peninsula and large parts of Manchuria. The name Korea itself is derived from the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918-A.D. 1392), which proclaimed to succeed Goguryeo. Koreans take pride in their Goguryeo heritage. Thus, China? denial of Goguryeo as a part of Korean history troubles the minds of Koreans.

This concern has been heightened as China has applied to UNESCO to register ?apital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom?after North Korea applied to register ?omplex of Koguryo Kingdom.?Both of these Goguryeo remains were inscribed at the same time into UNESCO? World Heritage List in 2007. In addition, China has attempted to deny that the mountain on the border between North Korea and China, which is called Mt. Baekdu by North Korea and Mt. Changbai by China, is a shared heritage of the two countries. Since Mt. Baekdu is considered the origin of the Korean nation, this attempt shocked Koreans. These attempts make some Koreans think that China is preparing to lay claim to the North Korean region in a future unified Korea, which is against Koreans’hope for unification.

Every country has right to construct its own history. To maintain peace in the region, however, neighboring countries’stances should be just as respected. China has the right to criticize Japan? denial of its war crimes during World War II, despite Japan? right to represent its history in its own way. Likewise, Korea has the right to ask China to respect Korean history for the sake of a peaceful relationship. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun mentioned his concern that this project might affect the relations between South Korea and China in a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in September 2006. The Chinese premier shared the concern, but unfortunately the result of the project still exerts a negative influence on the relations between the two countries. For co-prosperity and peace in Northeast Asia, China and Korea should reach a compromise about this history through engaging in dialogue.