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China Has Its Eye on a Divided Korea
[Talk Back Highlights] Geopolitics, domestic instability keep the Middle Kingdom on edge
Solitaire (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-07-27 14:12 (KST)   
While many willingly believe there is more than a thaw in the diplomatic and economic relations between Korea and China now, a potentially dangerous business has sneaked up on the Koreans, recently. After a while when Koreans seemingly forgot much about history, Chinese authorities want to remind Koreans that they want to settle some historical legacies, in their favor. After more than an amicable decade with Koreans, in economic cooperation in particular, Chinese officials seem to have second thoughts.

Looks like the Korean government has tried to ignore this significant issue, to many Koreans' dismay. It's mainly because of the burgeoning economic might China has gained of late. In 2003 alone, more than half of Korea's exports were to China. This clearly shows the Republic of Korea has grown quite dependent on the People's Republic of China economically. Still, one can argue China has grown dependent, too, on external factors like the Korean economy. It is true yet China wants to exercise its muscle, be it economic or military.

Do you believe China is concerned about the possibility of Korean reunification? If so, you're right. Political upheavals like territorial reunification on the Korean peninsula do worry China. They understand well there are millions of ethnic Koreans inhabiting regions including the three major provinces in the Northeast. They are Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces. The Northeast shares borders with Korea, North Korea at the moment. Chinese authorities know, historically, borderline areas are always asking for trouble for one reason or another. They know a border dispute will eventually arise. It is not too much to say that they may have been scared to see the centripetal force at work on Koreans during the last World Cup Games on and around the peninsula. Anybody heard Chinese were irate at Koreans over that sudden athletic success and euphoria?

You don't have to be a political analyst to understand differences between two Koreas and one Korea. A majority of Chinese and Japanese prefer the former. Divided, like Mainland China and Taiwan, an easy prey to foreign interference.

The Chinese communist government has learned some lessons from the breakaway republics of former Yugoslavia. When NATO bombed, allegedly inadvertently, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, they may have felt something chilling in the cataclysmic change in the Balkans.

China has seen the growth of a large middle class over the last decade. From my political and historical knowledge and understanding, a growing middle class means more aspirations toward freedom and human rights. Over time, this will take place. When citizens of China have more room to maneuver economically and politically, there is to be a palpable shift from politico-economic centralization to localization. With more than 55 ethnic minorities in various autonomous territories, China has, for sure, lots to worry about. This is a classic dilemma of a society that undergoes big changes. People shouldn't underestimate the consequences of economic perestroika and political glasnost. Russians were turned upside down by them. No one foresaw the possibility that the old Soviet Union would be dismantled, even seen on the threshold of the 1980s.

I believe China was horrified to see the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The country reminded China of so familiar a case. A historically multicultural, multiethnic nation welded and bolted together for long, led by Tito, a charismatic communist leader, dissolved itself into secession and ethnic hatred, followed by massacres. What could Chinese officials have had in mind then? Yugoslavia went through democratization and localization? No wonder they condemned American offensives on Serbs. It is just a matter of time that a multiethnic nation starts to harbor dreams toward independence, or at least political autonomy. In Yugoslavia, this took place through military means.

While the Chinese government continues threatening Taiwan with missiles and other military campaigns, things don't look that easy for them. The greatest roadblock on the Chinese path to expansionism is the fact that they have the Olympics and the unprecedented pace of its economic growth. Quite a few know if China misses out on this one, it will never get another chance. Hosting the Olympics is never less important. A big sports event like that in the nation's capital will fashion China as a remodeled society, ready to go out into the world in a bona fide manner. China will not care at all and just press ahead with an invasion plan to occupy Taiwan to block its move to declare independence? Americans view Taiwan as a geostrategically well-positioned mega aircraft carrier. What a nice case for military intervention!

Remember Kosovo? Yugoslavia was not such a big deal to Chinese officials. What was worse to the Chinese was what happened in the territory populated by ethnic Albanians, not Serbs. Imagine this. What would Chinese do if a portion of their land where they have the mausoleum of Confucius were to be populated by Tibetans and there were to be a secessionist move by them? Chinese leaders saw even a tightly controlled former communist country going haywire over such a short period of time. It happened to the breakaway former republics of the old Soviet Union. Only a catastrophe would prevent that from happening in China after more attempts failed in Russia and Yugoslavia.

China will need to secure more oil and food along with steel and coal to supply its population with prosperity and material status. To feed such a large population, it needs to expand. China will not give up the Paracels and the Spratleys. Japan needs energy, too, to support its aging population.

Ethnic Koreans in the Northeast speak the same language as the Koreans on the peninsula. The Chinese government has followed the atmosphere inside ethnic Korean communities in those provinces while they continued gravitating towards mainland Korea, especially the South. It is often economic affluence that attracts people across borders even to formerly enemy nations. A unified Korea will have completely different magnetism to ethnic Koreans living in the territories. No one knows when it will turn into "terrestrial magnetism" that will induce people and culture to a homeland.

Some Korean historians have made a case by cogently showing the Northeast, called Gando in Korean, belonged to the Joseon Kingdom before it was forcefully colonized by Japanese imperialists. There are 18th century European maps that clearly show this - and these were in fact copied from even earlier Chinese maps.

Japan sold the Gando territories to the Qing Dynasty in 1909. Historians assert it was illegitimate and it still is as Korea redeemed itself from Japanese colonial rule. Treaties concerning Korea by Japan during the colonial rule were rendered illegitimate after the fall of the Japanese Empire.

The decade-long Chinese systematic attempt to refashion the history of the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo in northern Korea as "belonging to Chinese history" is implemented with these historical legacies in mind.
This story was first posted in Talk Back. It was edited for length and clarity. -- Ed.
©2004 OhmyNews

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