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Qing Dynasty's chief minister's advice for Korea to form ties with U.S.

Qing Dynasty's chief minister's advice for Korea to form ties with U.S.

Posted March. 13, 2017 07:54,   

Updated March. 13, 2017 08:05

한국어

Which country recommended Korea to establish diplomatic relations with the U.S.? It is China. In his letter to Prime Minister Lee Yu-won of the Joseon Dynasty in 1879, Li Hongzhang, Beiyang Trade Minister of the Qing Dynasty, recommended Joseon to sign treaties with the U.S., the Great Britain, and Germany by citing Russia’s threat. China, which was slumping in national strength at the time, sought to use the strategy of controlling foreign force by using foreign force in which it brought in Western powers. Then, after Chinese diplomat Huang Zunxian handed over "Joseon Chaekryak (Strategy)," which suggested friendly ties with China, form ties with Japan, and establish ties with the U.S.’ tactics to Kim Hong-jip, who went to Japan as Joseon’s envoy in 1880, the Joseon Dynasty started to proactively consider exchanging a defense and trade treaty with the U.S.

China interrupted while Joseon (Korea) and the U.S. were actually moving to establish the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation: United States–Korea Treaty of 1882. Li Hongzhang attempted to include a written provision in Article 1 of the treaty suggesting that “Joseon is the Qing Dynasty’s colony.” However, Adm. Robert Shufeldt, a U.S. special envoy to Korea, vehemently opposed and excluded the provision. Shufeldt also urged Joseon to create a national flag, saying that if Joseon were to use Qing’s dragon flag or its variation at the signing ceremony in May that year, it constitutes an act admitting that Joseon is Qing’s colony. It was before Taegeukgi was created, and hence Joseon made "Taegeukdohyeonggi" flag and used it as temporary state symbol.

Liang Chichao, a Chinese enlightenment thinker, held Li Hongzhang accountable for 12 issues and mistakes in connection with Qing’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. The first mistake cited was that “Li wrongly advised Joseon to form treaties with multiple countries.” Liang influenced Joseon’s intellectuals who sought to open Joseon to the outside world by urging the need to embrace Western civilization, but was highly unhappy about the situation wherein Joseon, a Chinese colony, gained diplomatic sovereignty. He expressed sadness for the demise of Joseon (due to Japan’s annexation) by saying, “I have no choice but to cry out,” but he also authored a letter ridiculing Joseon’s incompetence.

The U.S. severed ties with Korea after the Taft-Katsura Secret Agreement of 1905, but formed the South Korea-U.S. alliance after the Korean War. The U.S. recognized Korea as an independent nation a century ago, and has never threatened this country even though the former is a superpower. China is taking an oppressive stance towards South Korea by citing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system, which reveals anew Beijing’s historic practice that Korea has witnessed for centuries. Li had a different intention, but his advice to Joseon has proven to be right.



eligius@donga.com