Chinese President Xi Jinping was belatedly reported to have said during his summit talks with US President Donald Trump, “Korea actually used to be a part of China.”
His remark was revealed by Trump in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, but what Xi said precisely has so far not been confirmed. It is also unclear in what context he made the remark.
But if he actually said so, his words show how the Chinese leadership perceives Korea and its history.
When asked by reporters about Xi’s utterance Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang replied, “What I can tell you is that the Korean people do not need to worry.” He did not confirm Xi’s words, but equivocated about it.
His answer may be positively construed as a hint that Xi did not say anything to worry Koreans during the summit.
But his remark is worrisome and dangerous in that it revealed his erroneous view on history and that it came during a crucial meeting to discuss ways to rein in North Korean threats.
If the US leader had acknowledged what Xi allegedly said as truth, it would be a serious problem. Trump and Xi may strike a dangerous deal on the fate of the Korean Peninsula.
Xi’s words should be confirmed first, but if so, his distorted view on history cannot be overlooked.
Whether he actually said so or not, it is an indisputable historical fact that Korea has never been part of China. Korea has never been a subordinate state of China, though it was influenced by China. Xi probably knows this.
If Trump conveyed precisely what Xi had said, the Chinese leader virtually threatened the sovereignty and identity of the Korean people. His words exposed his nationalistic views on history and will hurt the relationship between South Korea and China.
China has shown two faces about history. On one hand, it has condemned Japan’s history distortions, such as tributes at a shrine for World War II criminals and the denial of the Nanjing Massacre. On the other, Beijing has attempted to distort Korean history under the Northeast Project.
China has sought to rewrite the histories of adjacent countries as if they are part of its history through the five-year research project that began in 2002. The project was carried out on the assumption there was a greater Chinese state in ancient times. Researchers defined ancient Korean kingdoms that occupied what is now China as part of Chinese history.
It is haughty of China to discuss friendship and co-prosperity with South Korea after it perverted the truth about the history of the strategic partner.
China won’t listen to Korea about the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system. It opposes the system no matter what Korea says. It has even retaliated economically over the system. Koreans cannot but doubt that China treats Korea as its vassal.
China’s obstinate response to the self-defensive weapon to fend off North Korean missiles is seen as an attempt to tame Korea as well as drive a wedge between Korea and the US. It also arouses suspicion that such response may be rooted in the distorted perception of Korea being part of China.
The Korean foreign ministry said it had asked the US and China to ascertain what Xi allegedly said. If he is confirmed to have said so, China should explain his remark.
The news on Xi’s utterance is not only embarrassing and shocking, but awakens Koreans to the harsh realities of surviving between global superpowers.
It seems to herald an arduous journey for the next president who should deal with China and the US to defend national interests. Korea should pay more attention to changes in its diplomatic environment.