South Korea citizenship law change proposal sparks anti-China backlash

Of note:

South Korea is trying to increase its future working population by making it easier for children of foreign residents to become citizens, but its plans have run into trouble in the face of rising anti-China sentiment.

A measure proposed by the Ministry of Justice — first made public in April — called for easing the pathway to citizenship for children born to long-term foreign residents, by simply notifying the ministry.
But a presidential petition opposing the revision has gathered over 300,000 signatures. The chatroom of an online hearing held to discuss the proposal in May was overwhelmed with expletive-laced complaints by tens of thousands of viewers.
The justice ministry has said it is still taking into account public opinion and the advice of experts before submitting the proposal to the Ministry of Government Legislation.
“Given the strong backlash, I would say the ministry has already lost much of the momentum to push ahead with the proposal,” said Jang Yun-mi, an attorney who specializes in issues related to children.
The controversy highlights the challenges South Korea faces as it seeks to ensure a robust future population in the face of declining birthrates and rapidly aging workers, and the potential policy implications of increasingly negative views of China, its biggest trading partner.
Data from last year suggests only about 3,930 people would be eligible under the rule change, but the fact that 3,725 of them were of Chinese heritage prompted much of the criticism.
South Korean views have been colored by what some see as economic bullying by Beijing, its initial poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis, and the assertion by some Chinese that dearly held aspects of Korean food and culture, such as kimchi and the traditional hanbok dress, have roots in China.
Among immigrant communities, the proposed measures are not seen as worth the backlash, said Kim Yong-phil, editor-in-chief of E Korea World, a local newspaper for Chinese-Koreans.
“Anti-Chinese people could use this issue as a pretext to attack Chinese-Koreans,” he said.

Population decline

Naturalization was rare in South Korea until the early 2000s — just 33 foreigners gained South Korean citizenship in 2000, for example — but rose to nearly 14,000 last year, immigration data show.
Of them, nearly 58% were from China, and 30% from Vietnam. The rest included people from Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Japan, Korea Immigration Service data showed.
The latest proposal is needed to encourage future workers to stay by allowing them to foster a South Korean identity from an early age and stably get assimilated into society, the justice ministry told Reuters in a statement.
Kim Yong-seon, who came from China in 2004 to study and was naturalized in 2014, said the amendment is useful as it provides more options for immigrants, but the more pressing matter is making it easier for adults to become citizens.
“Over the past few years, the requirements for permanent residency and citizenship have only gotten harder,” he said, citing changes that require high amounts of income or assets.
Like the majority of Chinese nationals residing in South Korea, Kim is ethnic Korean — his grandfather migrated to China a century ago.
More than 70% of the 865,000 Chinese nationals residing in South Korea are of Korean descent, according to immigration data.
Negative views of China among South Koreans have hit historic highs recently, with as much as 75% having an unfavorable opinion of them late last year, compared to around 37% in 2015, according to Pew Research.
“Some Chinese people are already committing a ‘cultural fraud’ against the whole world by making unreasonable claims that kimchi and hanbok are also Chinese,” opposition People’s Party chairman Ahn Cheol-soo said.
“If left as is, it will lead to a ‘cultural invasion’ in which they claim that even Korea’s priceless culture is theirs.”

Source: South Korea citizenship law change proposal sparks anti-China backlash

[Herald Interview] ‘Multiculturalism is inevitable in Korea’s future’

More on the changing nature of Korean society:

Over 2 million residents now live in Korea, according to government data. This is more than double the figure in 2007 when the number hit 1 million for the first time.

“Multiculturalism is inevitable in Korea’s future,” Kim Do-gyun, president of the Korea Immigration Service Foundation, told The Korea Herald on Tuesday, a day before International Migrants Day.

When the foundation was established in 2004, its chief aim was to provide administrative assistance to the immigration office. But as the immigrant population grew, the foundation broadened its role to supporting foreign immigrants in adapting to and settling in Korean society.

“We have run integration programs for nearly 10 years now with the goal of helping immigrants prepare for their lives here,” he said.

The program includes introduction to language and cultural characteristics, as well as immigrant rights.

Allowing immigrants to make a smooth transition to their new homes is beneficial not only to the immigrants as individuals but to society as a whole, according to Kim.

“Most immigrants are here through marriage or on employment permit,” Kim said.

“They are often at a disadvantage, and unfortunately subject to discrimination at times,” he said. “Support is needed for healthy adaptation and acculturation.”

“If we fail them as a society in helping them settle in Korea or assimilate — should they want to — into our culture, that is one more person isolated from being able to function as a member of our community.”

Kim also spoke against prejudices immigrants face.

“Some 7.5 million Koreans live overseas. That is three times the number of immigrants — 2.5 million — living here,” he said, pointing out that migration was a natural occurrence in a globalized world.

“We have to stop thinking of immigrants in the third person. Because we may well be in their shoes someday.”

Moreover, Korea will have to rely on immigrants for its future labor force, Kim said, given the aging population.

“Politicians refrain from talking about immigrants because the subject is not exactly a vote-winner,” he said. “But what alternative is there for the aging crisis (than immigration)?”

“Our future is multicultural,” he said. “No culture is independent from outside influences. Homogeneity is a myth.”

As for undocumented immigrants, Kim said there should be legal channels through which they could be allowed entry.

“For instance, there are vacancies in jobs unwanted by locals that these illegal immigrants are willing to fill,” he said.

Since assuming office in March, Kim said he has worked on reaching out to immigrant communities and raising awareness about the foundation.

Kim said from his decades of experience in immigration services that immigrants were the ones more eager to learn about Korea and Koreans.

“But Koreans are not as ready to learn about immigrants or understand them,” he said. “This has to be a two-way street. If we are welcoming and open-minded, our new neighbors will find their way soon enough.”

Source: [Herald Interview] ‘Multiculturalism is inevitable in Korea’s future’

Nuances of racism in South Korean schools revealed

Another country grappling with integration and acceptance:

An ADI researcher is calling for a rethink of multicultural education policies and nationalism in South Korea.

Alfred Deakin Institute’s DECRA Fellow, Dr. Jessica Walton, has urged policy makers in South Korea to rethink their multicultural educational policies so children with a multi-ethnic background feel more accepted at school.

She argues that the issue is exacerbated by the way the country promotes its national identity.

Dr. Walton’s research is revealed in a chapter of the forthcoming book, “Interrogating belonging for in schools,” edited by Professor Christine Halse, Conjoint Professor with Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education.

In the chapter, “‘I am Korean’: Contested belonging in a ‘multicultural’ Korea,” Dr. Walton outlines the findings of her research into the friendships and relationships between Korean primary school children with mono-ethnic and multi-.

All the children could speak Korean fluently and had Korean names.

“The main difference that distinguished the multi-ethnic students from their peers was based on hierarchies of belonging, including whether or not they ‘looked Korean’, the country where their parents were from, and their racialised ,” Dr. Walton said.

“As one of the students explained to me, ‘If it doesn’t show that you are from a different culture it is okay, but if it shows, those kids get bullied a lot and have a difficult time becoming friends with others’.”

Dr. Walton said fear of potential exclusion affected whether the children allowed others to know about their backgrounds, even if they were comfortable having a parent who was not Korean.

“At school, children’s relationships are characterised by ‘uri’, which can be described as a sense of togetherness or we-ness,” she explained.

“‘Uri’ determines how children play and who with. For instance, during the class breaks and during lunch, mono-ethnic children had noticeably less interaction with multi-ethnic children.

“Mono-ethnic children played together and, if they wanted to be alone, their friends checked to make sure they were fine being alone, whereas multi-ethnic children who were marked as ‘different’ based on their tended to be alone.”

Dr. Walton said that, in addition to multi-ethnic with darker skin who were more severely excluded, there was another child with lighter skin who was regularly on the periphery.

“This ‘s mother was from Russia, but Russia is not considered an ideal country, compared with having a lighter skin colour from a parent from the United States or a Western European country, such as Germany,” she said.

“The student’s interest in computers, rather than sport, accentuated his isolation and he had previously moved schools because he was being bullied.”

Dr. Walton said the student made considerable attempts to include himself in other students’ games and tried to interact with them, laughing at their jokes.

“He and another boy developed a friendship while working on a project together and he described this boy as a friend. He didn’t consider their friendship close.

“When asked who his best friend was, he said it was his cat.”

As part of the research, the students were given disposable cameras and asked to take photos of the people, places and things that surrounded and were important to them.

The research also explored the students’ friendship groups, their interests, hobbies, things they liked, worries, dreams, friends and family.

Dr. Walton said compared to the Korean mono-ethnic students, who took many pictures of friends, the isolated Korean multi-ethnic students, such as the Russian Korean student, took photos of themselves and objects they enjoyed playing with.

Despite being treated as the “other” at school, the multi-ethnic students felt they were Korean, stressing they had been born in the country, Dr. Walton said.

Their sense of Korean-ness was heightened by travel to their other parent’s country of origin.

“These students have achieved the government’s policy for multicultural assimilation. They speak the language fluently, were born and raised in Korea and understand the cultural nuances, yet they don’t ‘belong’,” Dr. Walton said.

“Significantly, they assert their Korean identity and challenge the parameters by which ‘Korean-ness’ is used to include and exclude.

“They do not need to prove their nationality, but what their assertion points to is the need for a broader conceptualisation at a policy level of Korean identity; one which emphasises what they have in common, rather than one based on racialised features and whether they look Korean.”

Source: Nuances of racism in South Korean schools revealed

In Homogeneous South Korea, A Multicultural Village Hints At Change

Interesting article on change in South Korea:

“There is real immigration going on that is supported, facilitated, advocated by the South Korean government,” says Katharine Moon, the SK Korea Chair at the Brookings Institution. Her research focuses on the impact of a changing Korean population.

Immigration is a fairly new concept in South Korea, where foreigners make up only about 3 percent of the population. Bars and restaurants can ban non-Koreans from entry because no anti-discrimination laws exist. Foreign workers in Korea are subjected to mandatory HIV testing.

“It has been a homogeneous society linguistically, culturally, for so long. It has prided itself on the purity of the bloodline, the so-called bloodline,” Moon says. But because the birthrate has fallen to such low levels — South Korea has the lowest fertility rate among developed nations — immigration policies are changing. Government figures show the number of foreign residents living in South Korea climbed by about 50 percent between 2009 and 2014. Moon says attitudes will take a little longer to adjust.

“Right now, [integration] is about fitting into the Korean context, learning Korean language and not teaching your kids Vietnamese or Tagalog or some other foreign language,” Moon says. “True multiculturalism would involve mixing and blending and fusing of different languages, cultures, customs. We don’t see much of that — except in places like Wongok Village.”

A food stall in South Korea’s Wongok Village sells Chinese flatbreads and other snacks popular in China. Two-thirds of Wongok’s residents are not ethnically Korean, and many of them are from China. Elise Hu/NPR

Outside, on what’s known as “Multicultural Street,” people from different backgrounds mix. In front of the banks, there are signs in four or five different languages. Food stalls sell a lot of Chinese food, and there are Chinese markets and Chinese karaoke joints. You can hear Vietnamese as you walk up and down the streets.

As more people like Okoye seek opportunities in Wongok, their kids fill the classrooms of teachers like Kim. She says the children have taught her about dropping prejudices.

“Multicultural people are people that Koreans have to work together with to make Korea into a better country,” she says. “Wongok Village is what Korea will look like in the future.”

Source: In Homogeneous South Korea, A Multicultural Village Hints At Change : Parallels : NPR

How South Korea’s Growing Multiculturalism Could Complicate Unification

Likely some parallels with pre-unification Germany situation:

Recent population numbers show nothing short of a demographic transformation underway. Moon writes, “Currently, more than three out of one hundred residents in Korea hail from foreign countries, a spectacular change from 1990, when less than 50,000 foreigners, comprising 0.1 percent of the nation’s population, lived in Korea.” Projections underscore the transformation currently taking place. “By 2020, [foreigners] are expected to constitute about five percent of the total population and 10 percent by 2030, a level comparable to the proportion of immigrants and multi-ethnic populations in some Europeans societies today.” (emphasis added)

Those not of Korean lineage include migrant workers and marriage migrants. According to numbers cited by Moon, migrant workers total more than 500,000, including about 65,000 undocumented workers, and marriage migrants (predominantly female) number around 300,000.

Ethnic Koreans include mainly Chinese-Koreans (more than 450,000) and to a much lesser extent North Korean defectors (approx. 28,000). While most Chinese-Koreans are migrant workers on a temporary sojourn, North Koreans are granted citizenship upon arrival, as per the constitution, and, save for a handful of extraordinary cases of re-defection, all stay in South Korea for good. In the event of national reunification, which would presumably mean a precipitous increase in the number of South Korean citizens (by about 25 million), there would arise an interesting and challenging “problem.”

In the section on political implications for inter-Korean relations, Moon makes the following observation:

“Any process of peninsular unification must be based on the fact that South Korea is now a multi-ethnic and multi-national society whose democracy must expand and protect equal citizenship and human rights for all New Koreans. Yet such a premise would face opposition from North Koreans, given the decades-long extreme ethnonationalism and xenophobia officially propagated by Pyongyang. It is conceivable that race-based conflicts might poison the inherently complicated contestation over power and resources that any unification process would entail.”

The transformative effects demographic changes are having in South Korea are completely absent in North Korea; transnational laborers and foreign brides are not migrating to North Korea. Further, there is a significant difference with regards to the type of nationalism propagated in each country. Ethnic nationalism is present in both North and South Korea, but seems to be waning significantly in the South.

The volume Multicultural Korea?, edited by John Lie, makes clear that, while the recognition of South Korea as an ethnically heterogeneous society would have been unthinkable a generation ago, there is no denying it now. Both government and civil society have recognized (in discourse and in policy) that the face of Korea has changed. Additionally, the protest energy from the 1980s minjung movement, a counter-state ethnic nationalist movement, seems to have carried over into NGO and activist work in the migrant laborer and migrant bride space, thus effecting new top-down and bottom-up discourses of national inclusiveness.

Source: How South Korea’s Growing Multiculturalism Could Complicate Unification | The Diplomat

South Korea: Xenophobia and Discrimination

Apart from the part about the multiculturalism museum and foreign envoys, some interesting aspects about xenophobia and racism:

After a weeklong investigation into racism and xenophobia here, U.N. Special Rapporteur Mutuma Ruteere said on Oct. 6 that it was clear South Korea faced challenges related to its growing foreign community.

In addition to encouraging the government to pass antidiscrimination legislation, “South Korean authorities need to fight racism and discrimination through better education, as well as ensuring that the media is sensitive and conscious of the responsibility to avoid racist and xenophobic stereotypes,” according to a press statement on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

But just days after he left South Korea, Donga Ilbo, one the country’s largest news dailies, published a report on Oct. 10 that warns Korean women “to be wary of foreign men” buying them a drink at a night club. The report warns all Korean women of “foreign men,” based on innuendo and two vague allegations.

Examples of racial insensitivity here have recently garnered international attention. In August, a bar in Itaewon tried banning “Africans” from entrance “due to Ebola.” Earlier this year, an advertising campaign for a cigarette brand, This Africa, featured a chimpanzee dressed as a news broadcaster. Periodic incidents of performers wearing blackface on major TV networks here to solicit cheap laughs attracted international attention this year.

To its credit, the government investigated recent reports of overt discrimination against migrant workers hired as low-paid, unskilled manual laborers. It was those complaints that instigated the visit by the U.N.

Envoys come out for multiculturalism.