[NOTEBOOK]A Network of Entrepreneurs Makes SenseChina encourages ethnic Chinese who live in foreign lands to take root in the residing country rather than to return home to the mainland. At the same time, China asks its ethnic Chinese to not forget about the motherland and their hometowns.
Skillfully balancing the two concepts, China has found a way to bind together 34 million ethnic Chinese who are scattered in more than 160 countries around the world.
In September, the sixth World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention was held in Nanjing, China. Ethnic Chinese businessmen and government officials from mainland China gathered to discuss the Chinese economy and to seek common points of development. Upon reading a report written by a Korean government official who had participated in the event, I was surprised by the vast scale and great substance of the convention.
The city of Nanjing reportedly spent $1.1 billion to organize the main forum and accompanying events. In Korean money, the city poured in 1.4 trillion won to build a convention center, to overhaul city streets, to host participants and to set off fireworks. Five thousand people were mobilized to support and guide 3,300 ethnic Chinese businessmen from 77 countries. Why did China put so much attention into the four-day forum? The answer is that ethnic Chinese have been an important source of capital, technology and manpower for their country, particularly at a level that is critical to the development of the Chinese economy.
More than 60 percent of direct foreign investment to China comes from ethnic Chinese. By putting on such an event, the Chinese government aimed at establishing a firm network that connects Chinese entrepreneurs from all around the world.
Until the era of Mao Zedong, China had not been very active in capitalizing on its ethnic Chinese. Some Chinese even despised those ethnics because they're looked down as people who had abandoned their homeland.
Deng Xiaoping changed all that. After taking office, Mr. Deng tried to organize an ethnic Chinese network and to make it a driving force in the Chinese economy. Mr. Deng set up a ministerial level organization to manage the ethnic Chinese, and asked Lee Kuan Yew, then prime minister of Singapore, to host the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention every two years, beginning in 1989.
Thanks to those efforts, capital and technology from ethnic Chinese have flooded into China, and China's products are now distributed across the world through a network of ethnic Chinese.
By emulating what China has done, some Koreans want to organize an ethnic Korean network, to closely connect businessmen in Korea and overseas and to seek ways to prosper together.
There are 5.7 million ethnic Koreans living overseas. The ratio of ethnic Koreans to mainland Koreans is much higher than that of China. But we have failed to make the most of these human assets. The Korean government has neither drawn up concrete policies to make use of these assets nor provided a favorable environment so the ethnic Koreans can make an investment to the motherland. There are 2.6 million ethnic Koreans living in China, and Korea has almost neglected them.
The 21st century has been called the "era of economic wars." Policies toward ethnic Koreans living overseas should be created to stress ethnic identity but at the same time to pursue common economic prosperity. Just saying "We are Koreans" does not do any good. The idea of a "Korean Entrepreneurs Network" is very encouraging.
Discussions of a Korean businessmen's network remain at an abstract level. The first step will be accumulating a database on ethnic Korean businessmen, including mailing addresses.
China, Israel and India are trying to draw capital and a work force of people residing overseas in information technology and biotechnology, for in those areas a network that spreads across borders is most important.
We are living in an era where ethnic identity serves as a competitive edge. Could a Korean Entrepreneurs Network be successfully materialized? I would like to believe that it could.
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Gyu-yeon