Chinese media have paid keen attention to the news of the death of ex-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Saturday, as Roh was remembered here as someone who improved the bilateral ties and closely coordinated with Beijing in an effort to dissuade North Korea’s nuclear ambition , reports Korea Times .
Since the official Xinhua News Agency ran breaking news this morning, other major Internet media portals, including Baidu and Sohu, carried Roh’s death as headline news.. The influential Global Times updated Roh’s suicide almost in real time and even included a chronological biography of Roh’s life.
“This is truly unexpected,” said Huang Youfu, director of the Institute of Korean Studies at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing. “During the Roh administration, the China-South Korea relationship was very good, including bilateral trade. Roh was a South Korean president many Chinese people liked.”
Chinese experts on Korea pointed out the close political cooperation, trade expansion, cooperation at Six-Party Talks as well as the reduction in the inter-Korean tension as among Roh’s major legacy.
“He carried out a bold engagement policy with China” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University. “When the tensions between China and South Korea were rising surrounding the Koguryo dispute, he also had its foreign ministry closely work with its Chinese counterpart so as not to derail the bilateral ties.”
Shi cautiously suspected that Roh’s suicide was not exclusively due to the ongoing investigation into his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal that has already landed some of his relatives and aides in jail, but also partly driven by the degeneration of his political achievements as a whole. People are increasingly questioning his political legacy as his image as an “upstanding” leader has been severely tainted.
“Roh’s achievements of improving ties with China and North Korea might be negatively reevaluated,” Shi said.
Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at Tongji University in Shanghai, observed, “In China, Roh is known as a South Korean president who promoted the Sunshine engagement policy with North Korea, which he inherited from his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung.” China supported the approach of these two former South Korean presidents, who are also known to be advocates of South Korea’s closer ties with China. “Roh contributed a lot to the relationship of the two neighbor countries,” said Jin Jingyi, professor of Korean language and culture at Peking University.
Roh was also popular among Chinese public as a South Korean president who pursued an “independent” policy distancing South Korea from its traditional ally, the United States, albeit he was severely criticized by his political foes for the same reason. Guangming Daily in 2004 chose Roh among the “10 most influential international figures.” The state CCTV selected him as one of the “world’s 10 leaders” in 2005, so did The Beijing News in 2006.