Disputes surrounding China`s claim over Korea`s ancient Goguryeo kingdom took a positive turn after China promised yesterday to take due measures to settle the issue, but lingering fundamental differences remain a tinderbox.
After months of diplomatic rows and following negotiations, Seoul and Beijing reached an agreement in which Beijing pledged not to put its assertion over Goguryeo in its history textbooks as well as to stop such claims by the central and provincial governments.
The two sides agreed to make joint efforts to prevent the history disputes from developing into a political issue in a five-point "verbal understanding" that was reached after their senior diplomatic officials held marathon negotiations over the past three days in Seoul.
Despite the latest agreement between the two governments, disputes are expected to continue, at least at civilian and academic levels, because China fell short of acknowledging the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668 A.D.) was part of Korea`s history.
Beijing refused to accept Seoul`s demand to restore on its Foreign Ministry Web site the part on Korean history including the ancient kingdom.
"It can be regarded that both sides took the first step on the issue, rather than it is completely settled. We intended to set a solid direction," a senior Foreign Ministry official said during a news briefing.
The official said the two governments agreed to interpret the first point of the verbal understanding - that "China is mindful of the fact that the Goguryeo question has emerged as a significant pending issue between the two countries" - as meaning such an incident will not happen again.
Diplomatic experts here said China wanted an early settlement of the issue as it has strained bilateral ties, which marked their 12th anniversary yesterday.
China also intended to clear away the obstacle before Jia Qinglin, China`s No. 4 leader and Chairman of Chinese People`s Political Consultative Conference, visits Seoul tomorrow, the experts said.
Amid intensifying criticism against China from the Korean government and public, China dispatched its new Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to Seoul on Sunday with the Beijing government`s promise not to distort the Goguryeo history in its textbooks.
Wu, a former ambassador to South Korea, held a series of meetings with officials here, including Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin and Lee Jong-seok, deputy chief of the National Security Council.
Experts here were divided over the outcome of the Seoul-Beijing talks, with most of them saying China`s pledge is unsatisfactory.
"The spoken agreement cannot solve the problem and the Korean government must provide against the Chinese government`s full-scale attacks on our ancient history near future," said Jo Beop-jong, history professor at Woosuk University.
Jo said China may not correct the distorted history about Goguryeo because if the Chinese government approves Goguryeo as Korean history, China must give up its big scale project to make the nation`s all minority races` history as its own.
Citing China`s failure to correct its Foreign Ministry Web site on Korean history, Korea University professor Choe Kwang-sik said, "The Chinese government does not have will to correct its history distortion."
The Goguryeo issue drew wide public attention when the Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted in April references to Goguryeo from its Web site on Korean history, which was regarded here as China`s attempt to incorporate the ancient Korean kingdom into China`s history.
South Korea demanded China restore the portion it had deleted, but China early this month then cut out its entire description of Korean history before the 1948 establishment of Republic of Korea.
The history issue emerged in the open when Chinese researchers in the 1990s conducted a variety of studies aimed at separating the tribal origins of Goguryeo from Korean history.
Chinese scholars emphasized the fact that Goguryeo was one of the minorities in China`s northeastern region.