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Goguryeo Ghosts: China’s History Dilemma and the Future of Sino-Korean Relations

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Recent Chinese efforts to revise Northeast Asia’s ancient past have sparked tension with South Korea, and may also have affected Beijing’s relationship with the North.  A particular irritant is the claim that the Goguryeo kingdom, which once ruled parts of the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria, falls within “local Chinese history.” Even if such Chinese revisionism is addressed to internal security risks, many Koreans perceive it as aggressive. Beijing thus faces a dilemma: efforts to exaggerate the breadth of historical Chinese civilization may have a political logic, but will inevitably increase tensions with Korea.  The Goguryeo dispute has remained dormant for most of the last decade, but its ultimate resolution will depend on China’s own shifting security imperatives.

Taylor Washburn is a first-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in Korea Studies. Before coming to SAIS, he was a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon and Seoul. After graduating from Columbia Law School, Taylor began his career as a securities and litigation associate with a Boston law firm, and subsequently clerked for a federal district judge. His interests include American foreign policy in Northeast Asia and U.S.-Korea relations. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College.