Korea in Chinese history: Stuck in the middle

AS REPORTERS gather in Seoul to await the latest hostile missive (or missile) from the North, Western governments have continued to press China to do more to rein in their putative ally. Like a pit bull chained in the front yard, North Korea does keep the neighbours on edge. Of course there is always the danger of what might happen if you neglect to feed the dog.

China’s involvement on the Korean peninsula in the period since the Korean war has been cited amply in recent press accounts. But Beijing’s interests there have historical roots which reach back far earlier than 1950. For more than two thousand years, successive Chinese dynasties have seen Korea as a tributary to be protected, a prize to be coveted, or as a dangerous land bridge which might convey “outer barbarians” into China. Unsurprising then that China should have a long history of mucking about in Korean politics, a history which has often brought it into conflict with that other great Eastern power, Japan. This has seldom worked out well for the Korean people. Nor has it led to much joy for China.