China eyes Mt. Pektu VI

Seoul Cautious Over Rift With China
Korea Times
Lee Jin-woo

South Korea tried Friday to downplay its short track skaters’ action over Korea’s historical claim to a mountain on the border between North Korea and China during the ongoing Winter Asian Games.

On Wednesday, five South Korean female short track skaters held up seven placards with the message “Mount Paektu is our territory” during the awards ceremony following their silver medal win in the 5,000-meter relay.

A high-ranking South Korean official said the young skaters’ behavior was impromptu and should not be interpreted to have political significance.

“We have stressed that both Seoul and Beijing should deal with this issue calmly,” a government official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We delivered the message yesterday and today to our Chinese counterpart.”

The organizing committee of the Changchun Asian Games expressed regret Thursday and asked that similar incidents to be prevented in a letter to Kim Jung-kil, head of the Korea Olympic Committee. The games will end tomorrow.

The Chinese officials defined South Korean players’ act as a political activity, which is banned under the charter of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia.

China’s foreign ministry also called on a senior South Korean diplomat in Beijing on Thursday afternoon and expressed regret over the issue.

South Korean skaters’ surprising move at the award ceremony came after the Chinese government made efforts to promote Mt. Paektu as “Changbai Mountain” during the games.

China has reportedly renamed schools after the mountain and has also ordered a dozen hotels run by ethnic Koreans near the mountain to halt business.

On Sept. 6, the organizing committee lit a torch at the top of the mountain, angering many South Koreans. The mayor of Changchun, the host city, said the mountain was chosen as the torch site on Sept. 6 because three rivers _ Tuman, Amrok and Songhua _ originate there. Tuman and Amrok rivers are known as Tumen and Yalu in China.

Many South Koreans believe the efforts are part of the Northeast Project, a Chinese academic project to reexamine the ancient history of the region.

They view the project as an attempt to distort ancient Korean history in the northeastern territory of what is now China, including the Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668) and the Palhae Kingdom (698-926).

Beijing has disclosed plans to list the mountain as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, and plans to host the 2018 Winter Olympics there.

Unlike the angry South Korean public and news media, the South Korean government has remained calm over China’s actions to avoid stirring up a diplomatic dispute.

Under an agreement struck in 1962, China and North Korea, two sovereign states and U.N. members, agreed to share the mountain. The North has claim to 54.5 percent of the mountain, while China claims the remaining 45.5 percent.


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