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Move over Korea: the China wave is here

After gadgets, Chinese phones, cars and even TV shows are in style

Dec 17,2016
Kim Jin-il, a 31-year-old office worker in Seoul, recently bought a new smartphone. He chose Huawei’s P9, which cost 599,500 won ($506).

All of his previous smartphones were Korean brands. But Kim’s friends recommended Chinese smartphones, saying they offered good quality and great prices.

“I never thought I was using Chinese products, but I recently realized that I was using a lot of them,” said Kim.

Kim enjoys riding Xiaomi’s Segway-type Ninebot on weekends and playing mobile games that are based on Chinese history. He added that he will enjoy a year-end party with his friends at a Chinese restaurant.

More Koreans in their 20s and 30s are buying and enjoying Chinese products and content related to its culture. Even though China’s government is banning Korean dramas and movies from appearing on its state-run TV channels - in retribution for Seoul’s decision to deploy a U.S. missile defense system - it is the reverse in Korea. Koreans are starting to enjoy a China wave.

Many Koreans are running Xiaomi air purifiers at homes and shopping at Alibaba and AliExpress online. They’re watching Chinese dramas and going out to eat Chinese food.

“Now Koreans are able to buy products at reasonable prices directly from Chinese online retailers,” said Cho Sang-rae, CEO of Platum, an online media outlet that reports on start-ups. “Made in China products are no longer cheap, low-quality products when compared to Korean products, although smartphones manufactured by Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are still in a class of their own.”

And more Koreans are getting into Chinese culture.

According to the Ministry of Education, the number of Koreans studying in China was 29.8 percent of all Koreans studying abroad as of April. This was the first time the figure exceeded that of the United States, which was 28.5 percent.

Xiaomi had a starring role in spreading Chinese culture in Korea. The IT firm started in Korea by selling auxiliary smartphone batteries. Now it sells almost every product it produces, including wireless speakers, fitness trackers and electric scooters.

KomaTrade, a Xiaomi distributor, will open a Xiaomi brick-and-mortar store in southern Seoul next year as well.

“Xiaomi’s products like Ninebot are popular, and we plan to sell rice cookers and humidifiers as well [at the store] since the popularity of the brand is rising,” said Chung Jin-ho, a manager at KomaTrade.

Some automakers are trying to become the Xiaomi of the automobile industry.

Yinxiang Group will release a sports utility vehicle called the S6 in the beginning of 2017. Its price will be around 20 million won, which is around 30 percent cheaper than Korean SUVs. Chinese automakers have been selling trucks and buses in Korea but this will be the first personal-use vehicle.

“China is becoming more confident in their technology and products,” said Kim Pil-soo, a professor at Daelim University who teaches automobile related subjects. “The Korean market is relatively small but Chinese companies have long been prepared to enter since they believed it was a pathway to bigger markets such as North America and Europe.”

Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD will sell electric buses as well.

It’s not just Chinese products that Koreans are interested in.

Chunghwa TV, a Chinese television channel in Korea owned by CJ E&M, saw its viewership rise 435 percent in the past five years.

Chinese entertainment companies are growing fast and becoming more competitive in the global market. They are now able to produce cultural content that people around the world can enjoy.

“The Chinese government has been focusing on soft power policies and emphasizing culture, food and lifestyles and their competitiveness has risen as the country became richer,” said Chung Won-sung, a director at Huayi Brothers Entertainment Korea. “It is highly likely that such a trend will continue for quite a period of time.”


BY PARK SU-RYON [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]


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