China Distorts History to Prepare for North’s Collapse
By Lee Jin-woo
Andrei Lankov, a Russian-born expert on Korean affairs, said yesterday that China's recent moves to distort ancient Korean history is aimed at politically intervening in North Korea.
"The most likely explanation is that China is considering political intervention in the North,'' Dr. Andrei Lankov said at a lecture in Seoul organized by the Kwanghwamun Culture Forum, a fraternity of intellectuals. The 44-year-old scholar currently teaches East Asian and Korean history at Kookmin University.
China has stirred up controversy by publishing a series of articles claiming that the Koguryo (37 B.C.-668) and Palhae (698-926) kingdoms, which occupied the northern part of today's Korean Peninsula and the northeastern region of China, were part of ancient China.
Preparations for the collapse of North Korea have been deemed necessary and an advance into the North would require both psychological and cultural justification, at least within China itself, he said.
Lankov claimed presenting what is now North Korea as an ancient and integral part of China might create the political and psychological environment conducive to such plans.
He noted that China's first history offensive began around 2003 when Chinese activity in North Korea sharply increased.
The professor backed his idea with some statistics showing the amount of trade between the two countries tripled from $488 million in 2000 to $1,581 million in 2005.
"The strategic goals of China are influenced by its rivalry with the United States," he said.
He predicted that the "Chinese solution," which could include installation of a pro-Chinese puppet regime in Pyongyang, might be welcome by the North Korean elite, who are well aware of its own embattled situation.
Unlike the rulers of the former Soviet Union or China, the North's authorities have been unable to reinvent themselves as successful capitalist entrepreneurs.
"If the North Korean system collapses, the new Korea will be built by resident managers from South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and LG, not by born-again communist bureaucrats," he said.
As for North Korea's proclaimed nuclear test on Monday and possible sanctions against the North's provocations, Lankov said there are very few good options available for the United States and other nations, who have vowed not to tolerate the North's possession of nuclear weapons.
In an article contributed to Tuesday's edition of the Wall Street Journal, Lankov said the options for dealing with North Korea's newly proclaimed nuclear power remain as unattractive as ever.
He said an Iraq-style invasion would not work as most South Koreans would prefer to live with the remote possibility of a North Korean nuclear strike than risk starting a war. He also said a naval blockage would not work as the majority of Pyongyang's imports and exports pass through its land borders with China and Russia.
He pointed out that the fundamental problem with using sanctions against Pyongyang is the extremely low possibility of encouraging North Korean people to agitate for change.
"A regime that sacrificed at least half a million of its citizens during the famine in the 1990s is hardly likely to care if their plight is now further worsened by sanctions. Agitators and dissenters quickly face the firing squad in the North,'' he said.