This is the third and last in a series of articles highlighting the love-hate relationship between Korea and China to mark the 20th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations.—ED.
By Kang Hyun-kyung, Chung Min-uck
Over the weekend, Chinese protestors launched anti-Japan rallies in several cities after Japanese rightist activists and lawmakers planted the national flag on an island in disputed territory in the East China Sea.
Angry Chinese activists attacked and overturned Japanese cars, vowing to launch consumer boycotts.
This is a snapshot of a worst-case scenario showing vividly how Korean businesses could suffer, if no preemptive measures are taken to counter hostility brewing in South Korea and China toward each other. Such incidents could have a negative knock-on effect on business, trade and tourism.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and China, foreign policy analysts say both need to find ways to ease China-bashing in Korea and vice versa.
Although the hostility of Koreans and Chinese toward each other showed signs of relenting recently after Japan drew anger from people in the two countries over territorial issues, they said this could flare up anytime because person-to-person exchanges are continuing to increase.
Won Dong-wook, a professor of China studies at Dong-A University in Busan, noted that the sharp growth of such exchanges is a root cause of anti-Korea sentiment in China and therefore is also a key to easing it.
“Given that Chinese students who have a hard time adapting to Korea and Korean universities tend to cause the negative sentiment through social media, I believe university authorities will need to adopt more stringent admissions policies,” he said.
Won said that currently, universities accept most Chinese students who express their intention to study here without imposing a strict admission process just to make money.
These young Chinese have an understanding of the Korean language and culture, and tweet the negative aspects of Korea to their friends and followers in China so that they can see them. Their friends then retweet this information, giving Chinese bloggers a bad impression of the country.
Currently, some 600,000 Chinese work here, mostly in the manufacturing and services sectors. However, if illegal immigrants are included, this number is much higher. The Chinese population has grown rapidly since 1993 when the government adopted the guest worker program to ease labor shortages in the manufacturing sector.
Potential risks for China
Meanwhile, analysts say that China will also suffer, if China-bashing in Korea is not properly handled.
A 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey found that South Korea is a country that displays a relatively high rate of unfavorable opinions of China.
Political scientists, such as Princeton University’s Professor Aaron Friedberg, say China is seeking regional hegemony.
If neighboring countries remain uncooperative, China observers say the rising power will find it difficult to mobilize diplomatic and material support from them needed to push its initiatives.
Kim Young-hwan, a human rights worker who helped North Korean refugees in the northeastern region of China, said concerns over North Korea’s reliance on it is an example that shows how Koreans misunderstand Beijing’s motives.
“Some North Korea watchers expressed worries that the North could be annexed by China in the future if its dependence on the neighbor is increasing year by year,” Kim wrote in his recent book, titled “The Post-Kim Jong-il Era.”
”This, however, is baseless because China has no intention to annex the North it sees no benefit in making it one of its provinces,” he said.
If the North is annexed, Kim said, China will need to invest a huge amount of money in building infrastructure as well as prevent social instability and problems rooted in ethnic prejudice.
Plus, he said, North Korea is useful to China because the neighboring nation can be used as a buffer preventing it from facing the U.S. military which has 28,500 troops based in South Korea.
His remarks indicated that a better understanding of China will help ease China-bashing here.