South Korea Tells Trump It's Actually Never Been a Part of China

(Bloomberg) -- South Korea’s government wants to know whether Chinese President Xi Jinping gave alternative facts on the nation’s history to Donald Trump.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Trump said Xi told him during a recent summit that “Korea actually used to be a part of China.” The comments sparked outrage in Seoul and became an issue in South Korea’s presidential race, prompting the foreign ministry to seek to verify what Xi actually said.

“It’s a clear fact acknowledged by the international community that, for thousands of years in history, Korea has never been part of China,” foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a briefing in Seoul on Thursday.

Trump has sought to get China -- North Korea’s main ally and benefactor -- to do more to persuade dictator Kim Jong Un to stop conducting nuclear and missile tests. Xi’s explanation of the historical relationship made Trump realize that it’s “not so easy” for China to influence North Korea to give up its nuclear program, the newspaper quoted the U.S. president as saying.

Candidates for South Korea’s May 9 presidential election weighed in on the issue, which comes as the nation’s relations with China are already strained over moves to deploy a U.S. missile defense system on its soil.

“This is clearly a distortion of history and an invasion of the Republic of Korea’s sovereignty," conservative Liberty Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo said through a spokesman.

A representative for Democratic Party of Korea candidate Moon Jae-in demanded to find out the full context of Xi’s comment. Ahn Cheol-soo’s People’s Party said that, if true, it would be regrettable for China to distort history in an international diplomacy setting.

Chinese dynasties invaded the Korean Peninsula repeatedly over the centuries and demanded tributes, but South Koreans reject the idea that their ancestors were ever ruled by their neighbor.