|Xi Jinping and other Communist Party of China and state leaders visit an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Chinese participation in the Korean War, Oct. 19, 2020. Xinhua-Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
Chinese President Xi Jinping's definition of the Korean War has prompted Washington to hit back, raising additional concerns that rivalry of two super powers is creating verbal and cyber versions of a new "Cold War" here.
Xi called the Korean War a fight against "imperialist invaders" in a recent speech in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of China's entry into the war and glorified its participation.
The U.S. State Department then hit back. "The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] claims war just 'broke out' 70 years ago. Fact: North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 with Mao's backing. When free nations fought back, the CCP sent hundreds of thousands of troops across the Yalu, guaranteeing the Korean Peninsula's devastation," department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote on Twitter, Saturday.
Ortagus earlier posted another tweet over the history issue, when Chinese media criticized K-pop boy band BTS' remarks about the Korean War earlier this month that they would remember the history of pain which South Korea and the U.S. shared and the sacrifice of people of the countries. She tweeted: "Thank you BTS for your ongoing work supporting positive U.S.-ROK relations."
|K-pop sensation BTS has paid tribute to the Korean War earlier this month to mark its 70th anniversay. Korea Times file|
Adding controversy are social network service messages by Chinese members of K-pop groups, who posted messages and hashtags that are in line with Xi's speech. Many Koreans showed frustration at such postings, and an online petition was uploaded on Cheong Wa Dae's website, Saturday, calling on the government to restrict such singers' activities in Korea as they were distorting history.
One of the reasons that Xi's speech has caught intense media attention is the it is the first time for a Chinese leader to speak about the Korean conflict during a commemorative ceremony to mark its entry into the war since Jiang Zemin in 2000.
Experts say Xi's speech should be taken in the context of China's rising confidence amid its competition with the U.S.
"The speech is essentially about a show of confidence internally and internationally," Woo Su-keun, vice chancellor at Concordia International University, told The Korea Times.
"When the U.S started its tariff war with China in March 2018, China was at first intimidated. But more than two year after, Beijing has determined that the U.S. has has not been able to inflict a fatal blow to their country."
"Through the speech, Xi's domestic message is about showing confidence that it is doing well in countering the U.S. as a G2 nation and reassuring his people that with unity, they can do even better. To the outside world, the Chinese leader is saying the era of the U.S. is over," Woo said.
"Xi's message seems directed primarily at a domestic audience, as just one more example of 'red patriotism,'"John Delury, professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies, told The Korea Times. "Secondarily, in the context of tense U.S.-China relations, Xi is sending a signal of resolve to Washington, girding his national audience for the prospect of more struggle against the United States, economic and ideological this time rather than military."
Other observers note that China may be trying to distance Korea from the U.S. amid the rising U.S.-China rivalry and Washington's response to Xi's remarks reflect the expansion of the conflict on many fronts.
"Attempting to put a wedge in between Seoul and Washington is a distinct possibility," said Mason Richey, a professor of international politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. "The U.S. is responding, in part, because it is current U.S. policy to push back on Chinese revisionism, whether that be territorial revanchism or historical-ideological battles for hearts and minds. The fact is that the U.S. has identified China as its principle competitor, and it is battling it on numerous fronts, including historical interpretation."
The government here has been partly criticized for its "weak" response to Xi's stance on the war. But experts say that it is not a good idea for Seoul to target Xi's remarks specifically.
"I don't think Seoul would gain much by commenting on the differing statements from Washington and Beijing. It would be better to let actions speak louder than words by continuing to solidly support the US-ROK alliance," Richey said.
There are also views that Seoul should try to keep improving relations with Beijing, despite factors such as the differences in "historical interpretation" for the sake of security in Northeast Asia.
"The current exchange between U.S. and Chinese officials show relations between the two are at one of their lowest points in recent memory, and they also show China's unwavering support for its ally, North Korea," Donald Kirk, a columnist on Korean Peninsula affairs, told The Korea Times.