Proper reaction missing to deal with slight from Xi, Trump
China's historical perception of Korea has emerged as a diplomatic issue after belated news reports of a discussion the leaders of the U.S. and China had about the North Korean nuclear crisis at a summit in Florida earlier this month.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, U.S. President Donald Trump said, "Xi went into the history of China and Korea, and you know, you're talking about thousands of years and many wars. And Korea actually used to be a part of China." This remark caused widespread speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping explained his country's long ties to the Korean Peninsula to the new U.S. president from the Chinese nationalist perspective.
During a regular briefing on April 20, the Chinese foreign ministry did not confirm exactly what Xi said, but stopped at only saying that there is nothing for Koreans to worry about. This explanation is totally insufficient and does little to assuage Koreans' concerns about the perception held by the Chinese leadership and the Chinese people that Korea was a part of their country in ancient times.
This is not the first time Xi has made a derogatory remark about Korea. During a meeting with former President Park Geun-hye at last year's G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, Xi mentioned the Chinese saying "eum su sa won." This translates to "When one drinks water, one needs to think about where the water came from." The saying is used to remind someone about the need to remember one's roots and be thankful for them.
It has been 25 years since Korea and China established diplomatic relations. Over the years, Korea has done its utmost to develop fruitful relations and a strong friendship with China. Reports about Xi's "history lesson" for Trump on Korea came when many Koreans are upset with Beijing's retaliatory measures for Seoul's decision to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system to counter North Korea's provocations. It is China that is undermining mutual trust and holding back bilateral ties.
Trump's remark about Korea being part of China triggered outrage from many Koreans toward not just China, but also the U.S. It is an unacceptable diplomatic affront on the part of the U.S. president to speak about Korea in this manner. Even if Xi had said those words, Trump should not have repeated them to the media out of consideration for a close ally. The insensitive remark shows Trump's ignorance and lack of respect for Korea. If Trump needed a lesson on Korean history, he should take one from Koreans.
There is more reason to be concerned about the new U.S. administration's lack of knowledge on Korea. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence used the term "Sea of Japan" during a recent interview while explaining the false timeline the U.S. had given on the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson to the region.
During Park's term, Korea's diplomatic leadership was significantly weakened. It is partly our own fault that Korea is being mistreated by two of the world's most powerful nations.
What is truly disturbing is the lethargic response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry has not issued an official statement or lodged a complaint against Beijing, but simply told the local press that it is a historical fact that Korea was never a part of China and there is no reason to respond to such a claim. But the ministry should find out what exactly Xi said. The ministry should express its regret to the White House over Trump's remark. It should also seek a correction from the paper or submit a rebutting contribution to spread the correct view of Korean history in the international community.