China's Xi Jinping rankles South Korea with war anniversary speech

South Korea accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of distorting history in a speech he made on the Korean War.
South Korea accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of distorting history in a speech he made on the Korean War.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korea accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of distorting history in a speech he made on the Korean War, offering rare criticism of its biggest trading partner over rhetoric seen as anti-American.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Monday (Oct 26) dismissed as inaccurate claims that China fought against "imperialist invaders" during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

"The international debate on this has already been terminated," Ms Kang said in testimony to Parliament, adding the war was started by North Korea, an ally of the Soviet Union and China, when it invaded South Korea.

"The fact is clearly stated and recognised by the UN Security Council," Ms Kang said. "We are taking necessary communication measures with the Chinese regarding this matter," she added, without elaboration.

Opposition lawmakers called on South Korea to summon China's ambassador in Seoul for talks over Mr Xi's comments made last week.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's government has tried to reach a delicate balance to keep strong its commercial ties with China while maintaining its "ironclad" military alliance with the United States.

The bruising diplomatic and trade battle between Mr Xi and US President Donald Trump has matters even more difficult for Seoul.

Mr Xi sent a message to the US when he spoke last Friday at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of China's entry into the war to fight on behalf of North Korea, saying his country isn't intimidated by American military might.

The Korean War remains the only time China has gone to war with the US, which was commanding United Nations forces in the 1950-1953 conflict.

"After strenuous battles, the Chinese and DPRK armed forces defeated an opponent that was armed to the teeth, and broke the myth that the US military is invincible," the Communist Party-backed Global Times quoted Mr Xi as saying, using the abbreviation for the formal name of North Korea.

In October 1950, Chinese troops crossed the border into North Korea at the Yalu River to fight the US-led UN forces.

Beijing says just under 200,000 Chinese died in the Korean War, while some US estimates have put that figure at 900,000.

The Korean War ended with an armistice agreement that brought an end to the stalemated fighting.

Since then, the border between the two Koreas has been one of the most militarised in the world, with about a million troops now positioned near their side of the divide that was redrawn at the end of the conflict.

Mr Xi's comments come after a poll this month indicated that South Koreans already had strong misgivings about the Chinese leader.

The Pew Research global poll said that 83 per cent of South Koreans respondents had no confidence that Mr Xi would do the "right thing in world affairs". Three-quarters had a negative view of China, up by 12 percentage points from a year ago, it showed.

South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook, also said that he disagrees with Mr Xi.

"It is crystal clear that North Korea invaded the South, under the instigation of Stalin and Mao Zedong," Mr Suh said in Parliament on Monday about the leaders of the Soviet Union and China at the time of the war.

US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus weighed in over the weekend, saying in a tweet that China's participation in the war was tantamount to guaranteeing the "Korean Peninsula's devastation".

Sensitivities around the war are running high in China, where earlier this month millions of people took to social media to criticise South Korean K-pop music group BTS member Kim Nam-joon, known by his stage name RM, for neglecting to talk about China's role when he mentioned the Korean War at an awards ceremony in New York.